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August 01, 2004

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Cecil Turner

You mean another of the anonymous "officials," whose story was essential to making the "Bush Lied" claim, was actually enhancing the evidence? Say it ain't so, Joe!

Cecil Turner

And here's another story that the investigation is still active. It also mentions a report that suggests the leak was a direct result of the flap over Wilson's article, and that there was discussion over Plame's involvement that didn't touch on her NOC status:

"A senior State Department official confirmed that, while on the trip, Powell had a department intelligence report on whether Iraq had sought uranium from Niger--a claim Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, discounted after a trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA. The report stated that Wilson's wife had attended a meeting at the CIA where the decision was made to send Wilson to Niger, but it did not mention her last name or undercover status."(emphasis added)
If this is in fact the source of the leak: 1) it certainly does not fall under the statute on revealing undercover officers' identity; and 2) is a direct consequence of the buzz surrounding Wilson's very dubious article and his wife's involvement in his assignment to the mission in the first place.

TM

That's very interesting. IIRC, the Senate report mentioned an INR source for the news that Valerie was at the fateful meeting (and we all remember that INR is State). Part of Wilson's defense was that the INR guy was not in a position to know what his wife's role was.

[OK, that is on p. 40]

Chris

Is it possible that Hersh was referring only to the relevant documents, that is, the ones that were supposed to be the basis for the Niger uranium claim?

I don't have the Hersh article in front of me, so I'm not sure. But if the relevant documents *were* part of a larger collection of documents which didn't deal with that question specifically, and weren't relevant to the question Hersh was writing about, then wouldn't it be natural for him to mean by "documents" something like "the documents relevant to this question". In that case, at worst Hersh would be sloppy.

Possible? No? Since Marshall is incorrigibly biased, I'll have to appeal to your judgment.

TM

Chris - it is entirely possible that Hersh meant that (and the link ought to be in my post). it is also fair to note that the IAEA seems only to have examined a few documents sent ofer to them, not necessarily a whole package.

But my point is, I strongly suspect that that subtlety has been lost on most people, if it has been reported at all - most of the "forgeries" were NOT obvious fakes.

In which case, the "criminal incompetence or deliberate lying" meme is a bit harder to promote, a point Dr. M. seems to want to glide right past, since we all "remember" that part of the story.

Chris

If there were other documents in the batch which a) supported the Niger-uranium story; and b) were not fakes, then I think you've scored a nice point against Marshall.

If, on the other hand, the only worthwhile documents in the complete batch didn't provide any support that story, then your complaint vanishes into triviality.

Still not sure which it is.

Jeff

Sort of a non sequiter, but. Is all partisanship "grim," or just partisanship by the left?

Les Nessman

Jeff-
No and no.

ed

"It was only a subset of the documents --- those specifically related to the alleged Niger-Iraq transactions and a couple others --- that were bogus."

Doesn't this answer your question.

Earlier in the post Marshall states that a lot of the info recieved from this source related to Itilian immigration. Therefore, it is possible that that is what the addition documents refered to. He is pretty clear in saying that the easily identified forgeries were the only papers in the bunch refering to uraniam from Niger.

Kathy

I have read some of the most ridiculous defenses of Marshall and his "stories". I think there would be more credibility if Marshall would admit that even he makes mistakes from time to time.

The way he tries to spin his errors has just gone from the stupid to the bizarre.

David Meyer

I believe it was the SSCI report that mentioned that many of the documents were authentic. Only the inauthentic documents referred to uranium.

The Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican definitely visited Iraq. There were authentic documents related to that visit, including correspondence setting up meetings and appointments.

The inauthentic documents related to what was discussed at those meetings.

Chris

. . . so if David Meyer is right, then T.M. should be less irritated, no?

Or am I missing something? I'm a dull-witted Marshall-readin' lefty, so go easy on me.

TM

As to my level of irritiation, it is possible that I am beyond hope.

Anyway, I am still standing by my (perhaps not well articulated) point - if no one can show me where it was reported that most of the documents received by the CIA were not obvious fakes, then how can Josh Marshall be saying that "You’ll remember that most of the papers in the bundle of Niger-uranium documents that arrived at the US Embassy in Rome were actually authentic. "

What is the source of what Josh seems willing to assume is a widely held memory? Not the Hersh piece to which he links. Not the IAEA report. Maybe the SSCI report, but I don't remember that puzzle being specifically addressed (and I have a hard time believing that the report has been so widely read that we can take for granted people remember that detail).

Now, I can see why Hersh or the IAEA did not comment on that (assuming it is true). But that is different from saying that we all knew it, and have known it for a while.

praktike

I'm not sure what you're going on about here.

The docs are on cryptome for all to see.

dd

My, you are spending a lot of effort to parse a rather inconsequential statement on a blog post. And I do not recall Dr. Marshall's claim of infallibilty. Maybe you should wait for Fitzgerald to complete his investigation before giving everyone a clean bill of health based on such convoluted reasoning.

Rich

I think that Marshall was kind of screwed up to say that "we all recall" line.

But in reading his post I was certainly left with the impression that the Niger-Iraq-Yellowcake docs were part of a larger package of materials on other topics that were all accurate. And I believe the implication was that the forged documents were thrown in with the other docs as part of a strategy to make sure they were noticed and given credibility.

Now why someone would go through all the trouble to set the stage for passing off the forgeries and then make the forgeries so bad is another question, and I wonder if we are ever going to get all the answers to the questions that keep coming up in this tale.

TM

Maybe you should wait for Fitzgerald to complete his investigation before giving everyone a clean bill of health based on such convoluted reasoning.

Fitzgerald is investigating the Plame leak, not the source of the forgeries.

As to the suggestion that we might want to wait for some facts before awarding clean bills of health, duly noted.

I hope you are equally diligent in reminding others that maybe Evil BushCo did not deliberately jeopardize national security and imperil Ms. Plame simply as an act of revenge against a whistleblower.

If you are stuck for website to visit that needs such a reminder, I'll just guess that you could start with the Daily Kos. Just a guess, of course.

David Meyer

I miscited the source of this information. I have read it in multiple places, but the best is James Bamford's Pretext for War.

"The letters were obviously a blend of several genuine older documents, possibly obtained during the earlier break-in, which were used to masquerade the counterfeit newer ones. The purpose of the phony documents was to creat the impression that the true purpose of the Iraqi ambassador's trip to Niger in 1999 was to secretly arrange a large shipment of uranium to Iraq in 2000 and that he may have had something to do with the attacks of 9/11." [302]

The Nigerien Embassy in Italy was robbed over New Years 2001. Papers were stolen.

Bamford's notes include a list of "likely genuine" documents: A letter from the Iraqi Ambassador to the Nigerien Embassy in Italy confirming the visits, and two letters from the Nigerien Embassy in Italy to the Nigerien Foreign Affairs Minister. 402-403.

Bruce Moomaw

Well, if a "half-wit could looked at these documents and spotted them as forgeries", that really doesn't say much for the CIA, the Brits (who also fell for them, according to the Senate Committee report), or the French (who ALSO fell for them, according to ditto). If you're really trying to distract attention from this uncomforting demonstration of the competence level of Our Gang in the Great War by pointing to some gnat-sized rhetorical slipup by Marshall, it doeesn't say much for you.

Bruce Moomaw

Chris: "If there were other documents in the batch which a) supported the Niger-uranium story; and b) were not fakes, then I think you've scored a nice point against Marshall.

"If, on the other hand, the only worthwhile documents in the complete batch didn't provide any support that story, then your complaint vanishes into triviality."

Definitely Column B, since both the CIA and the SSCI report finally concluded that there was no other convincing evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.

As for the Plame affair, the July 15 LA Times says: "A senior intelligence official said the CIA supports Wilson's version: 'Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going…. They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes,' the official said." And the SSCI itself -- although it quotes an INR analyst on pg. 40 as saying that he thought this was "apparently" not true and that he himself was under the belief that she had played a bigger role -- also actually says that the CIA decided to send Wilson because they couldn't come up with anyone else qualified to send! "CPD concluded that with no other options, sending the former ambassador to Niger was worth a try." (pg. 41)

And as for the current conservative line that the exposure of Plame's identity was really no big deal, I have yet to see a convincing reply to Marshall on July 12: ""Really, why argue? If there's no legal case and no political problem, why don't the senior administration officials who leaked her identity just come forward? If their rationale is a good one and they face no legal jeopardy, what's the problem? It seems like a great opportunity to clear the air, settle the story, ascertain the facts and let the chips fall where they may.

"Doing so will save much of the money being spent on the investigation Mr. Fitzgerald is running. They can save themselves a lot of attorneys' fees. And they can have a free opportunity to explain the rationale behind their decision and why they believed it was the right thing to do in the context. I can only assume by their silence that they're rather less confident about the quality of their explanation and the degree of their legal jeopardy than their many voluble defenders in the conservative press."

Cecil Turner

"both the CIA and the SSCI report finally concluded that there was no other convincing evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger. "

They didn't, however, provide a convincing alternate explanation for the Iraqi trade delegation. And from the CIA viewpoint, the estimate wasn't based on the documents at all (which they hadn't seen)--they viewed the Iraqi trade delegation with suspicion and had a report from another intelligence service. The unclass NIE provides the information, appropriately caveated:

"A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."
And there were other reports of Iraq attempting to acquire uranium in Africa (also from the unclass NIE): "Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

"I have yet to see a convincing reply to Marshall . . . 'why don't the senior administration officials who leaked her identity just come forward?'"

(Chuckle.) Well, other than the fairly obvious fact the official who leaked would be fired immediately if he did so, spend the next 6 months hounded by reporters, and be pilloried in the press, I can't think of a thing. I'm sure the Administration would have preferred a prompt resolution last year--but the Administration official is probably hearing: "Confess, comrade, and we'll go easy on you."

N V

In addition to the cite that David Meyer provided, Laura Rozen also describes the mix of genuine and real documents on her blog, on July 14. There's also this Time article from 2003, which mentions that a forged letter about uranium was included with genuine cables referring to al-Zahawie's actual trip to Iraq.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,491666,00.html

So, it has been reported. For obvious reasons, the fake documents about uranium have gotten much more media attention than the real, non-uranium related ones that were thrown in with them. However, the fact that you weren't following the story closely enough to be aware of this particular detail isn't Marshall's fault.

Also, it seems to me that the fact that the fakes were mixed in with genuine documents supports the theory that government employees were involved in the forgery - because an independent, small time con man would likely have had a harder time coming up with genuine documents to camouflage the phony ones. So this detail, far from being a "rowback," actually backs up Marshall's account.

And the fact remains that the uranium related documents were blatantly forged. That some real documents were tossed in as cover doesn't provide any excuse for ignoring obvious evidence of fraud in the documents that actually mattered.

TM

This seems to be the key paragraph from TIME:

Italy had handed over cables from al-Zahawie to the Niger government announcing the trip, and other documents had pointed to his presence in Niger. But the inspectors were particularly interested in a July 6, 2000, document bearing al-Zahawie's signature, concerning a proposed uranium transaction. The inspectors refused to show him the letter, he says, but al-Zahawie was sure he had never written it.

"If they had such a letter, it had to have been a forgery," he says.

Now, let me respond to this:

However, the fact that you weren't following the story closely enough to be aware of this particular detail isn't Marshall's fault.

No, it is not his fault, nor is it relevant. My point, which should not seem to require this much repetition, is that (1) I really don't think many people were aware of this aspect of the story; (2) none of the links Josh provided provided a hint of this aspect of the story.

Now, if you are realy going to tell me that most people you talk to about the Niger forgeries took it for granted that most of the documents were pretty good, and only a few were obvious forgeries, well, you have pretty knowledgeable friends.

Based on the New Yorker pieces, I continue to believe that, my own deplorable ignorance notwithstanding, the Conventional Wisdom was that detecting the forgeries was trivial - hey, Joe Wilson did it without even looking at them.

And why do I care? Becasue folks in the grip of the CW also tend to believe that the CIA was laughably inept in not identifying the forgeries, that Bush lied, that Wilson debunked the forgeries, and so on.

If, on the other hand, the CIA was *not* laughably inept and Wilson did *not* debunk the forgeries, well, the story is a bit different. And I can easily imagine why a partisan like Josh would want to glide past that.

N V

You claimed that Marshall was deliberately playing down a previously unknown aspect of the story, because it undermined his angle. In fact the aspect was previously known (even if you didn't know it) - and it supports his angle, so there was no reason to conceal it.

Apparently the forgers threw in some genuine, non-uranium related documents, along with uranium related documents that were blatant forgeries. That doesn't even begin excuse a failure to identify the obvious errors in the specific documents that actually mattered for the uranium claim.

You honestly think that the inclusion of some authentic documents in the pile meant that a competent intelligence analyst would be justified in not bothering to check for obvious, glaring mistakes in the specific documents that referred to the supposed uranium deal? That's ridiculous. No remotely functional intelligence process could have that low a standard.

David Meyer

Re: the July 6, 2000 Memo. It was undoubtedly false.

The Guardian, July 31 2003: http://tinyurl.com/3tg2u

"Then there was the three-page accord for the uranium sale, allegedly signed on July 6 2000. As an accompanying letter of October 10 pointed out, it was being sent for information to the ambassador in Rome from the foreign ministry. The letter, however, would have struck anyone familiar with Niger as very odd. The heading included the words Conseil Militaire Supreme, a body which had been abolished in May 1989. It was signed by the foreign minister, Allele Elhadj Habibou. In 15 seconds an advanced Google search result shows that he held the post in 1988-89."

Cecil Turner: The Butler Report confirms the IAEA account for Zahawie's trip: trying to encourage foreign heads of state to visit Baghdad to build political opposition to the sanctions.

TM

What I honestly think is what I have been saying from the outset - this was not widely known, despite Marshall's assertions to the contrary. So far, that point has not been rebutted, one sentence in a TIME story and a blog post somewhere notwithstanding.

Ahh, here is the post in question:

Keep in mind that some of the documents that make up the "Niger uranium documents" were not fakes at all, and were essentially copies of telexes planning the real trip that the former Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See made to Niger and three other western African countries in 1999. In other words, there was a real trip to Niger by an Iraqi official. Copies of real documents planning that trip between the Niger and Iraqi embassies were part of the mix of documents - some outrageous forgeries, some genuine - that were later given to the US Embassy in October 2002.

Good for her. No link, no source, but she is obviously very well informed.

I guess your argument is that this is either widely known (but widely unpublicized), or irrelevant.

The evidence that this is widely known is not persuasing me. The fact that Josh Marshall provided no helpful links to document an unusual assertion has not been answered.

And as to whether it is relevant, I continue to think it is - if you take the trouble to read the SSCI, you will review the odd chain of events that left them *not* inspecting these documents carefully. Not the pinnacle of competence, but yes, I do believe that if some of the documents passed muster, and the analysts thought they had already seen verbatim copies of everything, they might not focus on the rest. That is their story, anyway.

And that story is different from what is implied in the the New Yorker version, to which Josh did link (and which I excerpted in the post).

OK, what are we stuck on - (a) do you really think this was widely known? (and if so, why, with sources, please)

(b) do you really think it does not change the story at all?

Cecil Turner

David,
"The Butler Report confirms the IAEA account for Zahawie's trip"

Hardly (and we've been over this ground before). The report discussed the IAEA account, but didn't confirm it. The pertinent conclusions were:

"The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible."

and

"We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded."

TM

Looks like I picked a bad day to switch to decaf - Laura Rozen, a lefty, Washington-based journalist obsessing on the forgeries - any chance she is working with Josh Marshall on this?

Deep thinkers may try their luck with Google, but since Josh says in his post that the two of them have been working together on this story, I won't bother.

In which case, I have the same question about her post as his. In fact, he could have linked to her (no source) post, and moved the dead-end back a bit.

For a bit of flavor, here is an early CNN account, of the type which I maintain set the CW:

...The documents, given to International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, indicated that Iraq might have tried to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger, but the agency said they were "obvious" fakes.

...How were forgeries missed?
But the discovery raises questions such as why the apparent forgeries were given to inspectors and why U.S. and British intelligence agents did not recognize that they were not authentic.

Sources said that one of the documents was a letter discussing the uranium deal supposedly signed by Niger President Tandja Mamadou. The sources described the signature as "childlike" and said that it clearly was not Mamadou's.

Another, written on paper from a 1980s military government in Niger, bears the date of October 2000 and the signature of a man who by then had not been foreign minister of Niger in 14 years, sources said.

"The IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts that these documents -- which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger -- are not in fact authentic," ElBaradei said in his March 7 presentation to the U.N. Security Council.

Close said the CIA should have known better.

"They have tremendously sophisticated and experienced people in their technical services division, who wouldn't allow a forgery like this to get by," Close said. "I mean it's just mystifying to me. I can't understand it."

A little more flavor from Nick Kristof, May 6, 2003:

As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously. I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that 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.

Somewhat incomplete.


N V

I don't know if the fact that there was a mix of of genuine and fake documents was "widely known," but it was known - as early as July 2003, as we see here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1009431,00.html


Along with that reference, and the Time article, it's also mentioned in the book that David Meyer cites - given the delay involved in publishing books, it's obvious that this info has been available to the public for a quite while.

As for the distinction between "known" and "widely known," I guess it's possible that the entire US media (left, right and center), along with Josh Marshall, were deliberately playing down this supposedly stunning revelation for partisan ends - that's what we have to believe in order to accept your argument. A much more plausible theory for a lack of widespread media attention to that detail would be that it wasn't seen as particularly interesting, let alone exculpatory for the intelligence analysts that overlooked blatant fraud.

As for why it isn't exculpatory - I'm not sure how I can make this any clearer, but I'll try again. Suppose someone gives you a stack of twenty dollar bills - two thirds of which look very convincing and are probably real, one third of which are so obviously counterfeit that they might as well be Monopoly money. Now, there are three possible conclusions you can draw about this pile of cash.

A. The Monopoly money is fake, and the realistic bills are real.
B. The Monopoly money is fake, and the realistic bills are suspect.
C. The realistic bills are real, and the Monopoly money is also real, because it was included in a pile with real money.

A and B are reasonable conclusions. C is a completely ridiculous conclusion. In order to claim that Marshall's "revelation" means that intelligence analysts can be excused for missing glaring flaws in the crude forgeries about uranium, one must claim that those analysts drew conclusion C, and were justified in doing so. This is very irrational. Like I said, I honestly don't know how to make it any clearer.

N V

That link above got cut off somehow. It should be:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1009431,00.html

N V

Hmm, happened again - maybe the problem's on my end. Anyway, if the link doesn't work, google search the words Pallister, Niger, connection and Guardian and read the first article that comes up. It's from July 31, 2003.

TM

As to what the general media may have chosen to report on this, the current consesnus seems to be, very little.

I guess it's possible that the entire US media (left, right and center), along with Josh Marshall, were deliberately playing down this supposedly stunning revelation for partisan ends.

I'm skeptical (and I know a strawman when I see it, thanks) - as to a general media motivation, we can only wonder, but I will point out, as an example, that the NY Times has yet to offer any second thoughts about publishing Wilon's op-ed. If your theory is that the media is not in a hurry to correct their own stories, I agree.

And that is hardly relevant as a defense to Josh Marshall, whose only links were to sources that told an opposite one to his "we all remembered" version.

Where we seem to be is, it wasn't widely known, and you would like to imagine it is not relevant. Good for you.

In your helpful example, if you give me a stack of money, having previously given me what I think are accurate assurances that the money is good, I may only glance at a few (good) bills on top, and be fooled. That is not a highly skilled decision on my part, but it may happen, and it reflects less blundering ineptitude than if *all* the bills were Monopoly money.

As a bonus on Josh's clarity, here is a post from July 17, 2004, briefly excerpted:

This post will take us admittedly deep into the weeds of the Iraq-Niger saga. But if you can handle the detail, let's proceed.

...the judgment was based on multiple reports and that neither was the sheaf of forged documents that bamboozled the US.

and much later:

In March 2003 the IAEA identified some of the documents it had received as forgeries and called into question the authenticity of the others.

As a refresher, here is his current post over which we are arguing:

You’ll remember that most of the papers in the bundle of Niger-uranium documents that arrived at the US Embassy in Rome were actually authentic. It was only a subset of the documents --- those specifically related to the alleged Niger-Iraq transactions and a couple others --- that were bogus.

Bring on a recovered memory therapist.

N V

"In your helpful example, if you give me a stack of money, having previously given me what I think are accurate assurances that the money is good, I may only glance at a few (good) bills on top, and be fooled. That is not a highly skilled decision on my part, but it may happen, and it reflects less blundering ineptitude than if *all* the bills were Monopoly money."

If you make that decision, you aren't qualified to be a cashier at Kwik-E-Mart, let alone a professional intelligence analyst. I don't know whether your standards for our intelligence assessments are actually that low, but I do know that any sensible person would expect much better.

But anyway, even that extremely poor defense doesn't apply, because in this case the obvious forgeries were documents that referenced uranium transfer, and the real documents didn't mention anything about uranium. If we follow your analogy, intelligence officials passed judgment on claims about the uranium plot without bothering to check the documents that actually mentioned uranium, and their judgment in this regard is defensible. Once again, pretty much nonsensical.

I'm giving up on this, because it seems hopeless.

You claim that this one detail represents a new and crucial revelation, despite the fact that it was brought to light over a year ago - and can't provide a convincing explanation for why virtually every major media outlet across the ideological spectrum has supposedly ignored or played down this supposed blockbuster for the past year (not surprising, since there is no convincing explanation).

You claim that intelligence analysts can be potentially cleared of charges of severe incompetence or dishonesty, solely because the blatant forgeries they accepted were accompanied by a crude camouflage that shouldn't been sufficient to fool a six-year-old.

As long as you repeatedly insist that we accept claims like that, I'm afraid there's not much point in continuing to argue.

TM

I'm giving up on this, because it seems hopeless.

I agree.

You claim that this one detail represents a new and crucial revelation.

Really? I claim it is a rowback by Josh Marshall to correct his earlier misleading reporting.

...can't provide a convincing explanation for why virtually every major media outlet across the ideological spectrum has supposedly ignored or played down this supposed blockbuster for the past year.

I don't suppose it is a blockbuster, but if it is your position that every mistake in the media gets corrected quickly, thanks for the tip.

You claim that intelligence analysts can be potentially cleared of charges of severe incompetence or dishonesty...

Thay was when I said "That is not a highly skilled decision on my part, but it may happen, and it reflects less blundering ineptitude", I guess - it was certainly not the point of the original post, which was that the reporting on this has been misleading and sloppy.

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