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October 20, 2003

Comments

Alex Parker

OK, lemme think for a second...

If this were all some big CIA conspiracy to over throw the Bush gov't (we all know that the CIA is good at overthrowing governments), then wouldn't Bush have said something by now? With the CIA getting uncharacteristically good coverage right now, wouldn't it be in Bush's interest to suggest CIA duplicity if it existed?

What Sy Hersh is suggesting is that a couple of ex-CIA officials got some half-assed plan about fooling the Bushies, produced something easiliy identifiable as a forgery, and then just let it out there, waiting to see if the administration would actually pick it up. Not quite a conspiracy, more just a set of unbelievable circumstances.

I still don't buy this. Anyone who has ever gotten one of those "Nigerian offical with $6 million" e-mails knows there are a lot of crackpots out there who are convinced that they are much better at looking and sounding official than they actually are. My guess is that the forger was probably someone from Niger who lived in Italy, had very limited knowledge of Nigerien government, and decided to see if it was possible to con someone out of a few hundred thousand lira.

Alex Parker

P.S. I don't even think Hersh believes this story. It was just something that one or two CIA folks told him, and he felt he might as well include it. That's why he didn't put it in his lede. You could take that part out, and it would do nothing to the overall point of the article.

Bruce Moomaw

"if Hersh is seriously reporting this, how can it not be his lead? Former CIA spooks are spoofing the White House and pushing us into war, current spooks are gossiping about it in the hallways, and the New Yorker thinks Dick Cheney is the problem?"

Beg pardon? Hersh's story is that some CIA agents decided to do this precisely because they got tired of Cheney & Co. "spoofing Congress and the voters and pushing us into war" by rigging intelligence data, and decided to lay a booby trap for their distortions that got out of hand. Your indignation is remarkably selective.

Mark Amerman

Bruce Moomaw,

The president and the congress are the people's
only representatives in the federal government.
They are the only legitimate representatives. As
soon as people in a federal agency act against
the president or the congress' wishes, then that's
a coup-like move. It completely undermines our
democracy.

The only circumstance in which I would approve
of people in the government acting against our
elected representatives would be if they believed
our elected representatives were part of a conspiracy to
destroy our democracy or to undermine our constitution.

But that's a very serious allegation and its not
even being made here. Further even if it were
being made, the minimum blowback for any such
action against the presidency should be the
firing of all government employees involved,
even if they were in the right!

What this actually seems to be all about is that
some CIA agents were unhappy that their viewpoints
were not being followed, and that even more to the
point did not approve of the strategy, the policies of
the Bush administration.

Bruce Moomaw

"The only circumstance in which I would approve
of people in the government acting against our
elected representatives would be if they believed our elected representatives were part of a conspiracy to destroy our democracy or to undermine our constitution.

"But that's a very serious allegation, and its not even being made here. Further even if it were being made, the minimum blowback for any such action against the presidency should be the firing of all government employees involved, even if they were in the right!"

The allegation being made is that the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense and their aides were deliberately manipulating US intelligence in order to delude Congress and the voters into a war. Deadly serious. I will agree that any CIA agents who engaged in such a stunt, even to expose such bastards, must nevertheless be fired (to avoid setting a destructive precedent) -- but that does NOT mean that they had no moral right to do it, any more than Daniel Ellsberg had no moral right to leak the classified Pentagon Papers (in which he was also "acting against the President's wishes").

TM

From the article, near the top:

The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome.

Turf struggles and selective, amateurish use of intelligence seem to be the allegations. But deliberate deception? I need to re-read this, I guess.

Cecil Turner

Bruce,
If the individuals truly believed administration officials "were deliberately manipulating US intelligence in order to delude Congress and the voters into a war," they could tell one of the intelligence oversight committee members or his/her individual congressman. Those leaks are authorized. In this case it probably wouldn't do much good, because Sen Rockefeller already called for an FBI investigation, and the consensus is that there just isn't any evidence to support it. Claiming some theoretical higher duty is a cute argument, but it’s hard to see the moral imperative behind putting information into the intelligence conduit that makes war more likely.

Jabba the Nutt

Alex Parker wrote:
If this were all some big CIA conspiracy to over throw the Bush gov't (we all know that the CIA is good at overthrowing governments), then wouldn't Bush have said something by now?

No. First, that would make Bush look weak and out of control. Two, it would turn a smoldering fire into a bonfire. Three, Bush doesn't whine or complain, he get's even and sometimes not even that.

Arafat has sabotaged Bush's Mideast policy without a peep from Bush. Why? Bush must be subordinating that to a more important policy or waiting until he's ready to move. Bush has alson never said a word about the last minute Chris TheHeinous's orchestrated leak of his DUI arrest in Maine. Why? Because he won.

Sir Richard

Even if the Niger scandal, and anything associated with it, is true and that Bush and friends fudged the whole thing, the Hersh article still makes the wrong conclusion. He tries to assert that this means that Iraq had no WMD's or associated program/infrastructure at all. He even mentions the common media jibe that Kay and team found "no weapons" in Iraq. This couldnt be farther from the truth. Kay has not found any weapons at the deployable stage, but he did find much more. Andrew Sullivan, on his blog, provides good analysis of the Kay report. The Hussein government most certainly had a weapons program. Not nuclear, fine. But a program nonetheless. It included the attempt to weaponize Congo Hemorraghic Fever and an underground chamber which apparently was used to test biological variants on humans!! This whole "no weapons" line being taken by the leftist media, New Yorker included, is total spin and not true in any way, shape, or form. Its only goal is to disparage the name of the Bush administration. Leftie see, Leftie do....

Richard Vagge

For Alex Parker,

If you think Sy doesn't believe this, you need to listen to this.

http://www.npr.org/rundowns/segment.php?wfId=1472527

He believes it, if you believe the words that come out of his own mouth.

Richard

Alex Parker

Richard,

I'm interested in what Hersh said on NPR but not interested enough to pay $4.95. Why don't you enlighten me?

He states in his article that "There is nothing approaching a consensus in the intelligence community" as to the source of the forged documents. If there is something that convinced him that they did in fact come from the CIA, he didn't say it in his piece. The CIA theory he attributes to "water-cooler gossip."

David Perron

I heard it on the way home yesterday and had to pick my lower jaw out of my lap. Dunno if I got it out of context, but he said words to the effect that there's absolutely no doubt that the forged intel was done by CIA, and it was done with the express purpose of tripping up Bush. Now, if someone who wasn't busy evading crazed tourists can confirm...

Mark Amerman

Alex,

Seems like more than water cooler gossip. Seymour
Hersh's source is saying he was told about this
by the people who did it.

Quote:

Another explanation was provided by a former senior
C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the
Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the
forgery, and said, "Somebody deliberately let something
false get in there." He became more forthcoming in
subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group
of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators
had banded together in the late summer of last year
and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

"The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney," the former
officer said. "They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the
bite on these guys.’" My source said that he was first
told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the
many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past
and present C.I.A. officials. "Everyone was bragging
about it -- ‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool,
cool.’ "

ilikechilli

I think underlying all the problems with WMD, spygate, the war is the fact that the Bush Admin didn't at the time and still doesn't trust the CIA. The lapses, especially with terrorism have added up (Trade Center 1, the Cole, 911) and the neocons decided to intrepret intelligence themselves.
Unfortunelty (and perhaps it was calculated this way by some), it also took away a very important mechanism in government called checks and balances. They no longer had to argue and debate (vet) Iraqi intelligence, and of course, this led to filtering and interpretations that supported their plans.
Was this a conspiracy to take over information and manipulate it to their ends? Not sure. Are they that clever?
One question still haunts me though...does George Bush even know what a stovepipe is?

Richard Vagge

Quote from Sy: "We can't rule out the possibility, because nothing else makes sense." I think it's free if you go to the NPR website. It's from All Things Considered" on October 20th.

Bruce Moomaw

Quoting TM: "From the article, near the top:

'The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome.'

Turf struggles and selective, amateurish use of intelligence seem to be the allegations. But deliberate deception? I need to re-read this, I guess."

From the article, near the top:

" 'The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book 'The Threatening Storm' generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was 'dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

“ 'They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,' Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.'

"The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. 'The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet'—the C.I.A. director—'for not protecting them. I’ve never seen a government like this.”

In short, Hersh is saying that the neocon clique deliberately wrecked the CIA's mechanisms to keep "bad information" from getting to the White House, in order to make sure that their own views intruded instead and that that nation got into an unwise war -- and that, if the rumors are true, a clique of CIA agents decided to deliberately feed them bad information to prove this and expose them.

Quoting Cecil Turner: "Claiming some theoretical higher duty is a cute argument, but it’s hard to see the moral imperative behind putting information into the intelligence conduit that makes war more likely."

For God's sake, the agents' reported plan was to make war LESS LIKELY by exposing dishonest distortions of the incoming intelligence information by a set of inept ideologues.

What I'm seeing on this site are continuing attempts to distract readers from the central facts: someone at the White House deliberately leaked a covert CIA agent's identity to the press to try and discredit her husband from helping to expose the now-proven fact that the Administration used ridiculously incorrect information to help get us into a war.


TM

"What I'm seeing on this site are continuing attempts to distract readers from the central facts"

Hmm, I would rather say that I am trying to understand the central facts (some of which are disputable). For example, it has puzzled me that Tenet had not, at least as of a few weeks ago, discussed this with Bush in their weekly meeting. Others have been very critical of Bush for not reacting promptly and decisively to discipline the leakers.

Well, if both Tenet and Bush suspect that some disgruntled ex-CIA types have staged this, that might (partly) explain their behavior.

Michael

Tom: I believe you are in error here--"The Ambassador's jaunt to Africa was triggered, in part, by news of the forgeries." The chronology according to Hersh is:

*2/99 --Iraqi diplomat visits Niger and neighboring countries
*Fall/01 -- Italian intelligence issues report speculating about purchase or attempted purchase of uranium during this visit. CIA discounts it.
* Cheney learns of report and asks for more investigation.
*2/02 -- Wilson trip and report.
*9/02 -- British "dodgy dossier" includes allegation of attempted purchase based mainly on Italian report.
*10/02 -- Forged documents first apppear in Rome. Journalist Burba gives them to US Embassy, they give to CIA.
* Burba's investigation discredits the documents.
* Documents allegedly stovepiped to Pentagon and WH, where they are believed.
* 2003 -- IAEA receives documents and pronounces them forged.

The CIA must have known for months that they were forged. We don't know whether they hid this information from the administration, or offered it, or weren't asked for an evaluation.

Cecil Turner

Bruce,
"For God's sake, the agents' reported plan was to make war LESS LIKELY by exposing dishonest distortions of the incoming intelligence information by a set of inept ideologues."

Didn't work out that way though, did it? By the time the forgeries were exposed, the military buildup was complete and the war less than 2 weeks away. If you accept this theory, the decision-makers were relying on faulty intelligence justifying war until nearly D-Day. And of course no analyst came forward when war seemed imminent and said “hey guys don’t use that, we made it up.”

Again, I find the scenario extremely unlikely. But if it were true, they’d be guilty of helping to start a war—and too cowardly to ‘fess up when it mattered. To see your apparent desire to hold them up as some sort of paragon is more than mildly distasteful.

Cecil Turner

Michael,
If you have any information the CIA discovered the Niger documents were forgeries, prior to being told so on March 7th by IAEA director ElBaradei, please provide it. It seems incredible that knowing that, they would provide copies to the UN. To put it mildly, the incident did not make the CIA look good.

TM

Michael, you pierce to the heart of my confusion. Hersh's timeline seems to be slightly different from a timeline we had been slugging it out about in a post from about one day ago, and I decided to go with the other story (which, if this is my lucky day, I have remembered correctly).

As I recall, the initial Italian report was supposed to have included summaries of documents, but no hard copies. The CIA got the hard copy at some point after Wilson got back.

I may not have expressed that well in my post - the idea was that the news contained in what were later judged to be forgeries inspired Wilson's trip. I did not mean to imply that, having established that the documents were forgeries, the CIA sent him off to see what was going on.

Remember, in the initial news accounts (Kristof, May 6), the envoy later known as "Wilson" claimed to have debunked the forgeries in Feb 2002. How, one wonders, did he do that, if the forgeries had not yet surfaced?

I will pitch in this link, and this excerpt:

On April 29 Paul Kelly, a senior US State Department official, replied on Bush’s behalf: “Beginning in late 2001,” he wrote, “the United States obtained information through several channels, including US intelligence sources... In addition, two Western European allies informed us of similar reporting from their own intelligence services.”

He made it clear that one was Britain. The second at first refused to say if it had independent evidence. “Not until March 4 did we learn that in fact the second Western European government had based its assessment on the evidence already available to the US that was subsequently discredited.” **Kelly’s remarks reveal that the forgeries, or at least a summary of what they contained, were actually circulating before Ms. Burba walked into the US Embassy in Rome.**

The US reaction to those early reports was to dispatch their man to the dust of the Sahel. Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon, spent eight days in Niamey in February 2002.

Emphasis added.

http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20editorials/2003%20Opinion%20Editorials/August/1%20o/The%20Niger%20Connection%20That%20Never%20Was,%20David%20Pallister.htm

Seamole

"the agents' reported plan was to make war LESS LIKELY"

That is NOT THEIR CALL, and given that the war liberated 25 million Iraqis, it may be possibly one of the most immoral acts any CIA agent has ever committed.

...That is, of course, if this anonymous, third-hand rumor is true. Since the source is Hersh, I'm very skeptical. His fanciful tale serves to improve the intellocrats' self-image by portraying them as a class of people capable of deviously engineering great schemes of state. Unfortunately, the hard facts of the story indicate that on this dossier, the CIA acted like a bunch of inept, highly-paid Google-illiterates who despite months of effort were easily outsmarted in the course of an afternoon by a couple of IAEA interns.

Swopa

. . . the CIA acted like a bunch of inept, highly-paid Google-illiterates who despite months of effort were easily outsmarted in the course of an afternoon by a couple of IAEA interns.

Of course, it could be worse. Those CIA "Google-illiterates" could have been the doofus who still believed in the Niger accusations after the "IAEA interns" had caught the forgeries:

March 7, 2003
International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei says "the reports of recent uranium transaction between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic" and "unfounded."

March 16, 2003
On NBC's Meet the Press, Vice President Cheney says: "I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong."

Gotta be embarrassing to be in that high a position and be that uninformed, wouldn't you think? Or do you think he was just lying? You choose.

Michael

Cecil Turner:

I do not have information that the CIA knew the documents were forged. But they got the documents no later than Oct., 2002. We know the analysts were skeptical about Iraq scare stories. How could they not have determined immediately that the documents were false, when the IAEA was able to do so in a matter of hours, we are told? If the CIA did not warn that the documents were false, that would seem to suggest a CIA conspiracy against the administration. But we don't know what they told the administration, if anything.

Tom:

Note that an early date (2001) for the origin of the Niger documents is nearly incompatible with their being created by CIA conspirators. The administration hadn't had time to drive the CIA crazy.

The Italian report of Fall, 2001 may or may not have been based partly on the documents. However, Hersh sounds like he talked to a CIA source familiar with the Italian report who thought otherwise. He says it was thin and speculative.

Paul Kelly does not refer specifically to the forged documents as such. He refers to "the evidence." Remember that part of the evidence is the Iraqi ambassador's 1999 visit and a Nigerien official's speculation that Iraq was sniffing around for uranium. I would suspect that everybody's spooks were on that early. It may be that the "intelligence from multiple channels" was nothing but that. Why would the Italians keep the documents from their allies if they existed?

Here is Paul Kelly's full text. Note it is deliberately hazy about what evidence was received when. Remember this is a CYA situation.

http://larouchein2004.net/pages/other/2003/030606waxman3.htm

Michael

Tom:

Responding to your point, "Remember, in the initial news accounts (Kristof, May 6), the envoy later known as "Wilson" claimed to have debunked the forgeries in Feb 2002. How, one wonders, did he do that, if the forgeries had not yet surfaced?"

Kristof paraphrases rather than quoting his source, who as you say was probably Wilson. Suppose the source said or meant that his earlier report rendered the documents incredible? Wilson could think that was true even if the documents didn't exist at the time of his report.

Michael

Three comments by me in a row, sorry.

I had forgotten that Wilson said he was given a general account of a sales document before his trip. Pardon my several mistakes above based on that error.

It is true, I think, that CIA people didn't forge documents that Italian intelligence claimed to knnow about in 2001. I suppose it's still possible that they forged different documents given to Burba.

Also there is the unsourced claim by Bill Gertz that the CIA didn't see the documents until February 2003. If that is true, the State Department withheld them from the CIA from October 2002 on, which seems incredible. Could the embassy at Rome have given them to John Bolton (State Department counter-proliferation guy and a neocon hawk), and he bypassed CIA to "stovepipe" them?

scott h.

Just for the record, in the Josh Marshall interview with Joseph Wilson, Wilson states that he had not seen the documents that turned out to be forgeries. He states he was briefed on a memorandum of agreement covering a sale of uranium. Not the documents leaked to the Italian tabloid.

Cecil Turner

Swopa,
The actual question the Vice President was responding to was:

“MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”

Which is in reference to another part of ElBaradei’s statement on the 7th:

“After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq.”

Your cut and paste job makes it look like he’s talking about the Niger documents, which is of course false. After that piece of misrepresentation, you are in no position to call someone else a liar.

Michael,
According to Tenet’s statement, at the time of the SOTU:
“Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns . . .”

And again, providing the documents to the UN a month later torpedoed US intelligence credibility. It does not make sense that the CIA would do so intentionally, nor is the re any information I’m aware of that such is the case.

narciso

There are certain tidbits of information, that
collectively clarify the plame case; the first
was a Boston Globe (NY Times) piece on the
elusive Brewster Jennings company alluded by
Priest & Lieby; it's not an energy company, it's more of a legal services company (www.
Boston Globe; Oct 10; Business; Kerber & Bender)
Apparent CIA front didn't offer much cover
By Ross Kerber and Bryan Bender, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 10/10/2003
At first glance, 101 Arch St. seems like the perfect setting for a spy story: an elegant office building downtown with an upscale restaurant, lots of foot traffic, and a subway entrance to stage a getaway.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It's a great place to blend in," said Rob Griffin, regional president of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., the real estate firm.
The CIA may have thought so too. Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative once listed as her employer Brewster Jennings & Associates. A company by that name has a listed address but no visible presence at the 21-story office tower.
Plame's exposure as an intelligence operative has become a major controversy in Washington. Former intelligence officials confirmed Plame's cover was an invention and that she used other false identities and affiliations when working overseas. "All it was was a telephone and a post office box," said one former intelligence official who asked not to be identified. "When she was abroad she had a more viable cover."
That's a good thing, considering how little work seems to have gone in to establishing the company's presence in Boston, intelligence observers said. While the renovated building houses legal and investment firms, current and former building managers said they've never heard of Brewster Jennings. Nor did the firm file the state and local records expected of most businesses.
Both factors would have aroused the suspicions of anyone who tried to check up on Brewster Jennings, said David Armstrong, an Andover researcher for the Public Education Center, a liberal Washington think tank.
At the least, a dummy company ought to create the appearance of activity, with an office and a valid mailing address, he said. "A cover that falls apart on first inspection isn't very good. What you want is a cover that actually holds up . . . and this one certainly doesn't."
Some in the real estate industry believe something was amiss, if not illegal. "It's almost like out of a spy novel -- the tenant that wasn't there," said Griffin, who once oversaw management of the tower. "And they picked a nice address."
The collapse of Plame's cover could compromise any other operatives who claimed to work for Brewster Jennings. Although former officials wouldn't confirm that Plame's cover company used the Arch Street address, they offered no other explanation of the phantom tenant.
Plame's identity as a CIA operative was disclosed July 14 by the conservative newspaper columnist Robert Novak, who implied that the information came from "two senior administration officials." Just eight days before, her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, a former US ambassador, had written in The New York Times that the Bush administration relied on discredited intelligence in alleging sales of uranium from Niger to Iraq.
Yesterday, Plame didn't return a message left with Wilson requesting an interview, but she had listed her employer as "Brewster-Jennings & Associates" in a filing when she donated $1,000 to Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. She listed her occupation as "analyst."
A spokeswoman for Dun & Bradstreet Inc., a New Jersey operator of commercial databases, said Brewster Jennings was first entered into its records on May 22, 1994, but wouldn't discuss the source of the filing. Its records list the company at 101 Arch St. as a "legal services office," which could mean a law firm, with annual sales of $60,000, one employee, and a chief executive identified as "Victor Brewster, Partner."
That person isn't listed elsewhere. But the address is certainly known, a tower finished in 1988 at the corner of Summer and Arch streets with 405,511 square feet of office space, then housing the upscale Dakota's restaurant, since succeeded by Vinalia. Many commuters pass through the building as they exit the Downtown Crossing subway station. 101 Arch was sold last year to CB Richard Ellis Investors of Los Angeles for an estimated $90 million.
Dun & Bradstreet records on Brewster Jennings show that on June 1, 2000, "sources contacted verified information" the day before, but a D&B spokeswoman wouldn't discuss what that means.
The D&B records give a phone number for the company, but it wasn't in service yesterday. Verizon wouldn't comment. A spokesman for the US Postal Service wouldn't say whether a post office box was associated with the company.
Vince Cannistraro, the CIA's former counterterrorism chief, said that when operating undercover outside the United States, Plame would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company "is not an indicator of what she did overseas," he said.
Brewster Jennings was the name of the president of the former Socony-Vacuum oil company, a predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. But the Jennings family denies any connection, said a grandson, Brewster Jennings, a real estate investor in Durango, Colo. He said that since the firm was named as a CIA front he's heard from many friends and family members who "find tremendous humor in all this."
Ross Kerber can be reached at kerber@globe.com.



which shows a paper thin cover, specially if she had been operating in the
Middle East. The second, is a story, that
relies on one of her former bosses in the
Ops division, when she was under official
cover; (Of course, this story suggests the
reverse of Kristof's speculation.suggesting she went under as a NOC in the mid 90s (Coincidentally that same issue of Time
Magazine; has a story titled the Secret
Collaborators; detailing the Iraqi underground, and blows all their cover, because yo know, the war's over. The last
si from the folks at Cryptome, who really
seem to picked up where Phil Agee, left
off; right down to precise geographic and
other information, the kind that helped
pin point Richard Welch. (some other details
are thanks to Daniel Brandt of the oft mentioned Namebase;) the last is a link to
a WSJ story, which seems to validate every
side of the speculation, by citing a certain
memo
1) She was an case officer

2) She was assigned to the Iraq account

3) her status was not covered in any way

4) the inadvertent release of information
ala Novak, is the most likely option

17 October 2003
The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2003
Memo May Aid Leak Probe
Document Details Intelligence Meeting On Iraq-Niger Reports
By DAVID S. CLOUD
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON -- An internal government memo addresses some of the mysteries at the center of the White House leak investigation and could help investigators in the search for who disclosed the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative, according to two people familiar with the memo.
The memo, prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel, details a meeting in early 2002 where CIA officer Valerie Plame and other intelligence officials gathered to brainstorm about how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from Niger.
Ms. Plame, a member of the agency's clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested at the meeting that her husband, Africa expert and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, could be sent to Niger to investigate the reports, according to current and former government officials familiar with the meeting at the CIA's Virginia headquarters. Soon after, midlevel CIA officials decided to send him, say intelligence officials.
Classified memos, like the one describing Ms. Plame's role, have limited circulation and investigators are likely to question all those known to have received it. Intelligence officials haven't denied Ms. Plame was involved in the decision to send Mr. Wilson, but they have said she was not "responsible" for the decision.
How Ms. Plame got involved in the decision to send Mr. Wilson to Niger has been a mystery since July, when columnist Robert Novak first publicly identified her as a CIA officer and said she was responsible for her husband being chosen for the job, citing two sources. Mr. Novak's column was written after Mr. Wilson publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." It didn't explain how she got into the discussion and, by implication, suggested Mr. Wilson hadn't gotten the job on merit.
It is illegal for anyone to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert intelligence officer with the intention of damaging national security. Even without such an intent, it is a felony for any U.S. official with a security clearance to disclose an officer's identity to anyone not also authorized to receive such information.
Mr. Wilson has told reporters repeatedly that his wife wasn't involved in his selection, and accused the White House of leaking his wife's name to punish him by ending her career as a clandestine operative. He said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday that he is unaware of any role played by his wife. "My wife knows of my particular experience with Niger. If there was such a meeting, I have no knowledge of it. It would be perfectly appropriate, though." He said that he hasn't asked his wife if she did suggest him for the mission because of the restrictions imposed by her job at the CIA.
According to current and former officials familiar with the memo, it describes interagency discussions of the yellowcake mystery: whether the reports of Iraq's uranium purchases were credible; which agency should pay for any further investigation; and the suggestion that Mr. Wilson could be sent to check out the allegations. Other officials with knowledge of the memo wouldn't say if it mentions Ms. Plame by name as the one who suggested Mr. Wilson, or if her identity is shielded but obvious because of what is known now about the mission. Operations officers like Ms. Plame are sometimes identified only by their first names even in interagency meetings.

TRACING THE LEAK
Events leading up to the criminal investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity:
Early 2002: Spurred by Vice President Cheney's office, intelligence officials gather to discuss reports that Iraq is trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. CIA officer Valerie Plame recommends her husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, for a mission to investigate the claim.
March: Upon his return from Africa, Wilson tells CIA the reports are "highly doubtful," echoing the sentiments of two U.S. officials who made similar inquiries.
September: CIA expresses "reservations" about a British report that says Iraq is seeking uranium in Africa.
January 2003: White House officials tout the British report in speeches, Bush cites it in his State of the Union address.
July 6: Wilson writes an op-ed piece criticizing Bush's use of intelligence.
July 14: Columnist Robert Novak reveals that Wilson's wife works for CIA.
Sept. 26: Justice Department opens investigation into who leaked information about Plame's status as a CIA officer to Novak.
Source: Intelligence officials, Arms Control Association


Officials said the memo is among thousands of pages of documents likely to be turned over to the Justice Department, which has advised the White House, CIA, Defense Department and State Department not to destroy records that might be connected to the leak investigation.
Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said his department is making headway in the probe of who exposed Ms. Plame's identity. "I believe that we have been making progress that's valuable in this matter," he said, without providing specifics about advancements in the case. "And we will devote every energy that's available, and every resource that's available at the highest level of intensity ... to reach the bottom of this."
That Ms. Plame recommended her husband doesn't undercut Mr. Wilson's credentials for the job of trying to figure out whether Saddam Hussein was seeking the raw material for a nuclear weapon in Africa. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and National Security Council expert on Africa in the Clinton administration.
The decision to send Mr. Wilson to Niger came after months of efforts by the CIA, urged on by the Bush White House, to try to discover whether the Iraqi dictator was back in the business of pursuing nuclear weapons. Indeed, two other U.S. officials -- the U.S. ambassador to Niger and a top Marine general -- were asked to make inquiries, and came back similarly dubious.
The claim nevertheless would become part of President Bush's argument for going to war, even after CIA officials warned the White House against citing the charge. The White House in July acknowledged that the information about the attempted uranium purchases was "not detailed or specific enough to be certain that attempts were in fact made."
The trail of intelligence is a murky one, but one that clearly whetted the appetite of the White House and others in the administration. U.S. officials say they received initial, sketchy intelligence reports about alleged Iraqi attempts to procure uranium in several African countries in late 2001. The information began to be viewed more seriously by the CIA in early 2002 after the governments of Britain and Italy told the U.S. they had received similar reports about Iraq searching for uranium in Africa.
U.S. officials say the more specific information came from Italy's intelligence service, which said it had been told by an African diplomat that Iraq had sought two 500-ton shipments of yellowcake from Niger, according to investigators.
The investigation was given a big push in early 2002 after Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for an assessment of the reports. According to Mr. Cheney's spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, the CIA reported back quickly that it was possible Iraq had made attempts to purchase yellowcake, but the agency couldn't be sure because it said the information "was fragmentary and lacked detail."
How Mr. Cheney first learned about the yellowcake reports isn't clear. Ms. Martin said he had heard of them independently of his regular CIA briefing. Once he received the agency's response, she says, he made no further inquiries about the information.
Mr. Wilson said he believes the CIA decision to send him to Niger was prompted by Mr. Cheney's inquiries. CIA Director George Tenet said last summer that decision was taken at the agency's own initiative.
Officials familiar with the early 2002 meeting at CIA headquarters said intelligence experts were uncertain about what further steps they could take to try to track down the yellowcake allegations. The CIA has no station chief in Niger, but the U.S. ambassador there already had made her own inquiry. These officials also say some participants at the meeting were skeptical of the Italian report. State Department officials, in particular, felt that 500 tons of uranium was such a large amount that there was no way it could secretly be transferred to Iraq.
Mr. Wilson says the first time he heard about a possible trip to Niger was when he was called to a meeting at CIA headquarters in February. About a dozen representatives of government intelligence agencies were present -- but not his wife, he said. He said he was asked to attend because of his expertise on Africa and his knowledge of the African uranium trade, gained during his years at the Clinton White House.
He said the meeting in a windowless conference room opened with a mention of Mr. Cheney's inquiry about the African connection to Iraq. He said that in the course of that meeting, officials raised the possibility of his traveling to Niger and told him they would contact him with a decision. A few days later, he said, they told him to go.
When Mr. Wilson returned from Niger's capital Niamey in early March, he said he told CIA officials it was "highly doubtful" any transfer of uranium took place. Current and former Niger officials he talked to said they were unaware of any contract being signed with Iraq. According to an official CIA summary of Mr. Wilson's report, released last summer, Mr. Wilson did report that one former Niger official told him he had been urged by an unidentified businessman to meet with an Iraqi trade delegation in June 1999. The former official interpreted that overture as an invitation to discuss uranium sales.
In September 2002 -- seven months after Mr. Wilson's trip -- the Niger puzzle got even more intriguing. An Italian journalist walked into the U.S. Embassy in Rome and presented documents purporting to describe a contract signed by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger. The documents were transmitted back to State Department headquarters in Washington. It took until March of this year for the CIA to analyze the documents and conclude that they were a hoax. By then Mr. Bush had already given his January State of the Union speech describing reports that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa.
On July 6, Mr. Wilson wrote an opinion piece asserting that the intelligence on Iraq and yellowcake had been "twisted" to exaggerate the Iraq threat. Eight days, later Mr. Novak revealed Mr. Wilson's wife's name in print and that she was the one who "suggested sending [Mr. Wilson] to Niger."
.

Bruce Moomaw

Me: "For God's sake, the agents' reported plan was to make war LESS LIKELY by exposing dishonest distortions of the incoming intelligence information by a set of inept ideologues."

Cecil Turner: "Didn't work out that way though, did it? By the time the forgeries were exposed, the military buildup was complete and the war less than 2 weeks away. If you accept this theory, the decision-makers were relying on faulty intelligence justifying war until nearly D-Day. And of course no analyst came forward when war seemed imminent and said 'hey guys don’t use that, we made it up.'

"Again, I find the scenario extremely unlikely. But if it were true, they’d be guilty of helping to start a war—and too cowardly to ‘fess up when it mattered. To see your apparent desire to hold them up as some sort of paragon is more than mildly distasteful."

Paragons, hardly -- not if they tried to duck responsibility for doing such a thing, at such a moment. What I'm seeing on this site and sites like it goes a hell of a lot further than not calling them "paragons" -- it's an attempt to get Cheney & Co. off the hook for massively and deliberately distorting intelligence, by insisting with a straight face that people who may have tried to expose their lies are MUCH WORSE.

Bruce Moomaw

Me: "the agents' reported plan was to make war LESS LIKELY"

Seamole: "That is NOT THEIR CALL, and given that the war liberated 25 million Iraqis, it may be possibly one of the most immoral acts any CIA agent has ever committed."

If the war was justified entirely on that ground (at a time when we also have the much more developed WMD programs of Iran and North Korea to deal with), then why did the Bushites need to present fake evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program? And if the Administration was providing such fake evidence as a result of the deliberate distortion of intelligence (presumably motivated by its harebrained belief that Iraq could be cheaply and quickly rebuilt and reformed), it was "THEIR CALL" to expose that fact. I look forward to Seamole's justification of the White House providing similar fake evidence about a nuclear weapons program in Sudan or Congo, on the grounds that it's our immediate duty to invade them and liberate the tens of millions of wretches there.

Swopa

The actual question the Vice President was responding to was:

“MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”

Which is in reference to another part of ElBaradei’s statement on the 7th:

“After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq.”

Your cut and paste job makes it look like he’s talking about the Niger documents, which is of course false. After that piece of misrepresentation, you are in no position to call someone else a liar.

Cecil,

Thanks for the correction. I was quoting an ABC News timeline, and I should have checked the "Meet the Press" transcript myself to verify the context.

However, even given the context you cite, the Kay report ("To date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material") supports ElBaradei -- and leaves Cheney either entirely wrong or entirely dishonest.

Do either you or Dick C. (if he's reading from his undisclosed location) have "evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program" that needs to be shared with ElBaradei and David Kay? (And I remind you that we're looking for evidence of an actual program here, not merely imputed bad intentions. Hope, as they say, is not a program.)

Cecil Turner

Swopa,

Well, first let me apologize for blaming you for ABC’s disingenuous cut-and-paste job. It’s frankly amazing to see that came from a respectable news agency—but obviously it did—and the rest of the article is just as bad. You may have some responsibility for checking your sources, but neither should I have assumed you stuck those two unrelated facts together.

As to the Iraqi nuclear program, further in the Kay report it says: “The Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) beginning around 1999 expanded its laboratories and research activities and increased its overall funding levels.” Which overall activity would be noticeable, and corresponded with the business trip to Africa that spawned many of the later reports. It’s obviously not consistent with the supposed dismantling of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions. However the nuclear program was always the least advanced of the Iraqi WMD programs, and it was many months away from enriching a significant quantity of uranium, or building a weapon. (That’s all me, Dick hasn’t called recently.)

Bruce,
“If the war was justified entirely on that ground (at a time when we also have the much more developed WMD programs of Iran and North Korea to deal with), then why did the Bushites need to present fake evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program?”

From Tenet’s statement: “In October, the Intelligence Community (IC) produced a classified, 90 page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD programs. There is a lengthy section in which most agencies of the Intelligence Community judged that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Let me emphasize, the NIE’s Key Judgments cited six reasons for this assessment; the African uranium issue was not one of them.

And the nuclear threat was far less developed than the chem and bio threats, which was common knowledge. (The administration never claimed Iraq had a nuclear weapons, but they had and used the chemical ones.) To see this touted in hindsight as the main justification for war is revisionist. It was always a peripheral issue and still is.

I’m glad to see you’ve stopped singing the praises of the (probably mythical) CIA agents who supposedly forged the documents. But now you assert we’re trying to get “Cheney & Co. off the hook for massively and deliberately distorting intelligence.” If you have evidence for such a claim, trot it out, please. (And second-hand speculation from journalists with spotty track records does not impress.)

TM

Interesting point from Michael - if the Italians had documents in early 2002, were they also forgeries? And would the ex-CIA cabal have been inclined to produce forgeries at that point in time?

I need to pick through the new stories dropped in here. And on the minor point of whether Ms. Plame was involved in selecting him for the trip, I am smacking myself for "no guts, no glory" - it has always bothered me that the Ambassador's scripted responde to the question is a "non-denial" denial, which, paraphrased, is "my wife wasn't in the room when I was briefed on the trip, and anyway, why would a mother of two year old twins want me to hie off to Africa?"

Now his story is, "I never asked her whether she suggested me, she doesn't bring her work home". Well, fine, and appropriate. But why the phony "denials"? Why not just say, "I don't know, so what?"

Now, I think (IIRC) in the Marshall interview he is pressed on this, and deviates from script, and actually gives a real denial. Loose the hounds!

Gary Farber

Writing point: when writing multipoint articles, and making multiple references to acronyms, identify them many times. It took me about ten minutes after crusing into a reference to your "pt II" post to figure out what the heck "VIP" was, in your references. I eventually found it, but it shouldn't be incumbent upon your readers to have to spend such a time searching out what your unique acronymns or references mean. It's not helpful, and it creates an antagonistic attitude from a reader. Unnecessarily or reasonably.

Gary Farber

Amplification: particularly since you use "VIPS" about a gazillion times, as if we all use that in common usage. WIJVFU. You know what I mean, of course.

TM

Thanks for the helpful suggestion. Since all my readers are VIPs around here, I will keep it in mind.

That said, I do notice this, in about the fourth paragraph - it is via Seamole, and is the first time the VIPS get mentioned:

...yes the same Ray McGovern who runs the "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" (VIPS) group that has been bashing Bush and associating with all things leftie.

In my next line, I link to a letter from the "VIPS", but following the link gives what I had hoped might have been a helpful clue, since the group is identified at the top of the letter as the "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity".

However, I will be sure to keep your suggestion in mind.

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kim

I got it, finally. Judith Miller is covering for, or being protected from, VIPS.
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Wilson/Plame