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« I Can Recommend A Book To Joe Wilson | Main | Geez, Matt, People Make Mistakes - Even You »

July 19, 2004

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Jim Thomason

Wilson's op-ed never made any sense, because (among many other problems) even if he had not uncovered any information to bolster the case, the absense of evidence does not prove anything.

What is interesting to me about this excerpt (I've never read his book and have no plans to, life is too short to bother with "non-fiction" from a proven liar) are two assertions:

1. That because he was sent on an information gathering mission, he therefore knew all the information the Administration had. Like most of Wilson's statements, this makes no sense whatsoever. While I can believe that he was briefed on some of what was known, but I strongly doubt that such a briefing would have included all data. Time constraints alone, not to mention the intelligence practice of keeping things on a 'need to know' basis would have precluded such a complete rundown.

2. Who are these "two other officials" that he was talking about, and what did their reports conclude? Is this in the Senate report? I seem to remember reading somewhere when this originally broke out that the current American ambassedor to Nigeria was also doubtful about the possible Iraqi overtures, but that is all.

Where did Wilson learn of these other two officials - and the contents of their reports?

Let me finally add a late thought. Another reason to limit the knowledge of information gatherers is to likewise limit the potential for prejudicing the new report. If you tell someone that two other people have already investigated and have come up dry, then how hard are they going to look? Instead of getting a third (hopefully) independent search, you instead get someone who is going through the motions since he already "knows" that he won't find anything. And "going through the motions" with his eyes "wide shut" certainly seems to be a good description of Wilson's trip to Niger.

Jim Thomason

One more "final" thing. Joe Wilson claiming to know the contents of the reports of two other American officials on this matter is either another instance of his lying, or is further evidence of the CIA's gross incompetence in this matter.

EGC

The folks over at Atrios' site are seething. Kinda funny to watch them squirm and grasp at straws..."Josh Marshall has something up his sleeve! Something on Cheney! Cheney forged the documents! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Josh Marshall save us from this embarassment!!!!"

TM

Interesting point, Jim. The two reports were IIRC, from the local Ambassador, and from a General who had been passing through on a refueling stop (the Senate report contains a poignant insight into the life of the distant foreign service officer, who explained that she wanted Niger to be the best refueling stop in Africa, in order to get folks to pass through).

J Mann

Jim, the disconnect in Wilson's op-ed is that, if you assume his invesigation was competent, (which we don't but he presumably does), then he found that (1) Saddam *did* probably explore the idea of buying uranium in Niger, but (2) the French uranium controls and the general unwillingness of the government to sell quashed the attempt before it really got off the ground.

So whenever Wilson *sounds* like he's saying that Saddam didn't try to buy uranium in Africa, he really *means* that Bush should have told you the whole story - that even if Saddam did try, it seems like it was a pretty pathetic and unsuccessful story.

This is sort of similar to the situation that whenever Wilson sounds like he's saying that his wife had nothing at all to do with him getting the job, he really means that she didn't make the final decision.

TM

Re: Holden at Eschaton - he has a point I have wondered about myself, and which the Times addressed - why are we defending the Admin more vigorously than they defend themselves?

Doesn't explain Wilson, though. I think (although few lefties seem to agree) that it can be intellectually consistent to simultaneously believe both that (a) Wilson is a liar, and (b) Bush did a terrible job with this war.

David Meyer

As a guy who basically thinks Joe Wilson is right, I am confused by all the triumphalist banter on the warblogs.

I have little vested in Wilson's credibility. He could be the biggest liar since Nixon, and the outing of his wife would still be a reprehensible crime. That said, the SSCI's report doesn't settle anything about his credibility, and its bizarre focus on him highlights the politicization of the report.

Moreover, the SSCI report and the Butler report both gave simple conclusory statements that the uranium from Niger claims were "well founded." That may be, but what are they founded on? There are three pieces of evidence: media reports about a trip by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican in 1999, the forged Italian documents, and the CIA's interpretation of the former Nigerien Prime Minister's statements to Wilson.

That isn't "well founded." There's no evidence on the record that supports the claim, just unsupported conclusions from "clubbish" reports.

Fred Norris

This is a few days old, but I wonder how this fits into the picture:

BBC News

Ex-Niger premier denies Iraq link
Niger's former prime minister has said that Iraq did not try to buy uranium, contradicting claims made in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Ibrahim Mayaki told the BBC that no Iraqi delegation went to Niger while he was foreign minister or prime minister.

An official report into UK intelligence supported the claims that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger.

Although some documents backing up this claim were shown to be forgeries, the UK has not withdrawn the charge.

Last week's US Senate report on the intelligence leading up to the Iraq invasion said that Saddam Hussein's government may have tried to buy uranium from Africa.

Following the discovery of the forgeries, President George W Bush withdrew the charges.

'Easily verified'

Mr Mayaki denies allegations in the Senate report that he admitted meeting a delegation from Iraq in 1999.

The report says that he expected to discuss uranium with the Iraqi delegation but managed to steer the conversation in another direction.

But Mr Mayaki now says he has no recollection of such a meeting, while he was in government from 1999-2001.

"I think this could be easily verified by the Western intelligence services and by the authorities in Niger," he said.

Claims that an African country had supplied Iraq with uranium were first made in a dossier compiled by the British intelligence services on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, made public in September 2002.

The chair of the UK enquiry into the quality of British intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction said this information had come from several sources.

The forged documents were not available to the British government when it was making its case for the war and so did not undermine its conclusion, Lord Butler said.

Story from BBC NEWS

IceCold

David, I think you completely mischaracterize what the "well founded" conclusions were, uh, founded on. You cite 3 pieces of "evidence," none of which likely figured into the British report cited in the SOTU. We don't know what the evidence was, but it certainly could not have included documents the Brits hadn't seen, and CIA interpretations that came apart from and after their own assessment, and was extremly unlikely to have been centered on a media report of a Vatican visit.

As Jim Thomason pointed out and as I've said over and over in the comments here, Wilson should have been in no position to make even an interesting, much less conclusive, assertion about the intel picture on Niger. The CIA shouldn't and probably didn't share their whole file with him. This is what made his whole escapade, from the outset, weird and non-credible.

And that's leaving aside that he only had a partial view of one part of the puzzle. Try as I might, I can't find the word "Niger" in the SOTU. For Wilson's basic charges to even be relevant, he'd have to have conducted his own full-blown inquiry into not just Niger but other African uranium sources as well. With access to the full US, British, and probably French files on the subject. Obviously he had done nothing close to this, and had no such access.

So I'm wondering what someone who "basically thinks Joe Wilson is right" is basing that view on.

TM

I don't want to put David M on the couch as typicalof the entire left... but i will.

My guess as to the meaning of "I still think Wilson is right, what's the big deal?" is that, to his supporters, Wilson was right about Bush misjudging the intel and leading us into a disastrous war.

Now, my personal view is that a person could believe Wilson is right about that, and still think Wilson lied about many, many details.

Put another way, if I walked around saying "I have just invented arithmetic, and 2=2=4", you might say I was a liar, even though you agreed that 2+2=4.

My impression is that, over on the left, people aren't ready to make that leap. The fear seems to be that if they repudiate Wilson today, they will be endorsing the war tomorrow, and calling for a lower minimum wage and tax cuts for the rich by the end of the week.

Well, that's my guess. The idea that the war could be wrong, and Bush incompetent, even though the 16 Words were not a fabrication, seems to be to induce too much cognitive dissonance.

The Kid

Re: Fred Norris BBC Report –
This report explains why WaPo Ombudsman Getler said that PM Mayaki did not meet with the Iraqi delegation. If you examine the Senate report, you’ll find on page 43 that it was Wilson’s intelligence report.

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, [DELETED] 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."

So, given the BBC report, Wilson was wrong about the meeting taking place, and ended up reinforcing the CIA’s faulty assessment, no?

Is Wilson responsible for strengthening analysts suspicions about Iraq, the very point that he was trying to dismiss?

HH

"He could be the biggest liar since Nixon, and the outing of his wife would still be a reprehensible crime."

Careful with that "would"... You don't know, nor do I, whether the "outing" is a "crime," because we don't know who did it. Until we know who did it and know whether they were fully aware of their status (and several other things, including the CIA's effort to keep her identity secret), we have no idea if it's a crime. What we do know is that the media relied heavily on statements by Joe Wilson (such as the "frog marching" of Rove for example) in its coverage of this matter and has yet to do a full mea culpa on all of this, and what was and was not sourced to Wilson... I believe it is more than we are being told.

Matt

Couldn't it also be possible that 1) Wilson is a liar and 2) that the 16 Words were based on very flimsy evidence and had no place in the State of the Union (unless the point was to mislead) without a caveat as to how speculative it was?

sym

Count me in on the "Bush and Wilson are liars" squad. But Bush's lies are much, much more significant (that whole disastrous war thing you mentioned). Iraq was not a threat to the US, and outing Plame was still a horrible crime. So Wilson is right about the big picture, but his command of the details seems a little shaky.

The Kid

Here’s a link to the 7/14/04 BBC report Fred Norris quotes above.

David Meyer

Ice Cold: I actually largely agree with you. We have no idea what evidence the British relied on in determining that Bush's 16 words were well founded (note that they actually do specifically address this: see Butler Report, para. 499). That's why the triumphalism is so confusing to me - it seems entirely unwaranted.

We know three pieces of evidence for the uranium from Niger claim, none of which is strong. There is nothing else in the public domain that supports the claim.

The claim that Wilson was sent to investigate was a "uranium sales agreement" approved by the State Court of Niger in late 2000. (SSCI Report, p. 36) This would have been easy to verify.

He talked to several foreign government officials that would have been involved in any agreement approved by the State Court of Niger. Moreover, Wilson could have analyzed the broader role of the accessibility of Nigerien uranium to rogue states. Simply making sure that the IAEA overseers and the French operators of the mine were still doing their job would have gone a long way to confirming the I&R conclusions about the credibility of the evidence.

The Bush administration conceded in July of last year that they were referring obliquely to Niger in the SOTU.

I think Wilson is right because I think he went to Niger and found some useful information that cut against an already weak piece of intelligence. I think Bush made the claim in the State of the Union without adequate intelligence to back it up. In fact, Tenet has conceded just that.

TM: Wilson was right to the extent that the "16 words" shouldn't have been in the SOTU. His little junket helped disprove them. It was not dispositive, but his findings certainly cut against the intel. claims made at the time.

The 16 words weren't a fabrication, they were just an irresponsible overreliance on untrustworthy intelligence.

I don't trust the SSCI conclusion that Plame recommended Wilson for the trip. The CIA's statement in the LA Times that Plame didn't recommend him seems like better evidence. It is only marginally relevant anyway, since he was still independently qualified to verify the claims. Even if he lied about Plame's involvement after the fact, it doesn't discredit his earlier conclusions about the State Court.

The Kid: Wilson's report was definitely interpreted by the CIA as supporting the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. See SSCI Report, p. 46.

Reg

Wilson’s Reported Iraqi/Niger Meeting that “Was”, “Was Not”, and Now “Was”—Again!

I believe Joe Wilson--really, The question is not “if” it’s “when” you believe him.

Consider the alleged “meeting” between an Iraqi official and former Niger Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki in Algiers during the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conference in June 1999. (Obscure enough for you?) Questions have arisen here and elsewhere about this issue. So I decided to take a fresh look.

Has Wilson lied about this issue? I’ll be charitable and say probably not. But it’s a close call. I suspect Wilson-- if asked-- would say it depends on what the meaning of the word “meeting”. Is it a formal meeting between official delegations or an informal meeting between government officials? Did Wilson spin and was he misleading? You bet.

Here’s a quick chronology (note: I’ve added that which is in brackets[ ]):


1. March 5, 2002 Wilson is Debriefed Just After Returning From Niger (SSCI, p.43-44)
Wilson tells two CIA officers according to their report that Mayaki met with the Iraqi Delegation in June 1999.

2. July 6, 2003: “What I Didn’t Find In Africa” Wilson’s NY Times Op/ed:
No mention of the previously alleged meeting in the NYT op/ed or in his first “Meet the Press” interview that same day.

3. July 11, 2003: DCI Tenet Releases a Statement on Niger Controversy/Wilson’s Trip:
First (?) public mention of the alleged June 1999 Iraqi/Niger meeting.

4. September 16, 2003: Talking Points Memo Interviews Joe Wilson (page 16-17)
Wilson says his interlocutor [Mayaki] “declined” to take the 1999 Iraqi meeting in question.

5. October 5, 2003: Wilson Appears on “Meet the Press”—Again! (MSNBC, transcript)
Wilson’s asked about Tenet’s July 11 statement. Wilson responds, “the meeting never took place..”

6. January, 2004: Wilson Speaks Again to His Source [Mayaki] (“The Politics of Truth” p.28)
Source [Mayaki] tells Wilson that “Baghdad Bob” was probably the Iraqi he [Mayaki] met at the OAU meeting in 1999.

7. May 2, 2004: Wilson Appears on “Meet the Press” Yet Again. (MSNBC, transcript)
Wilson: “That’s right…there was a meeting...between a senior Niger official and an Iraqi official”

8. July 7, 2004: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report Is Publicly Released
Report States: [Wilson] said that Mayaki did meet with the Iraqi delegation but never discussed what was meant by “expanding commercial relations." (Senate Intelligence report, page 44).

9. July 14, 2004: BBC Report “Ex-premier [Mayaki] denies Iraq link” *(See below)
BBC interviews Niger’s ex-prime minister Mayaki. The BBC reports that Ibrahim Mayaki said the following:
A) Iraq did not try to buy uranium
B) No Iraqi delegation went to Niger while he was foreign or prime minister.
C) Mayaki denies allegations in the Senate report that he admitted meeting a delegation from Iraq in 1999.
D) Mayaki now says he has no recollection of such a meeting [as described in the Senate Report], while he was in government from 1999-2001.

10 July18, 2004: WaPo Ombudsman Response to Wilson’s Critique of the Post:
“But the [Senate] study concludes that Wilson's March 2002 report, which noted that the former prime minister of Niger said that in 1999 he was approached by a businessman insisting he meet with an Iraqi delegation (which he did not do)…” (Getler, WaPo, 7/18/2004)


*Note: On item #9 the 7/14/2004 Mayaki Interview as Reported by the BBC:
Allegation A may be correct. Certainly “expanding commercial relations” has just enough plausible deniability to deny uranium as Iraq’s goal.
Allegation B is false. Iraq’s Vatican ambassador visited Niger on 2/8/1999 as an envoy of the then President of Iraq to Mr. Ibrahim Bare, the then President of Niger. At the time Mayaki was Niger’s Prime Minister. Allegation C is probably false. Is he hanging on the word “delegation” as opposed to meeting an Iraqi official in June 1999? If not, and he’s telling the truth then Wilson’s the liar. Allegation D is probably false and is certainly highly deceptive--or was Wilson highly deceptive?.Did Wilson make up his January 2004 conversation with Mayaki as he reports in his book? Simply stated, I trust Wilson under oath more than I trust a BBC report of a former Nigerian official not under oath.

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