Fri., June 13, 2003
"A key component of President Bush's claim in his State of the Union address last January that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program--its alleged attempt to buy uranium in Niger--was disputed by a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002, according to senior administration officials and a former government official. But the CIA did not pass on the detailed results of its investigation to the White House or other government agencies, the officials said."
This was particularly noteworthy because of the ways in which it both confirmed and confounded elements of a piece written by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times on May 6 (see Wednesday's LeftHook!). Kristof had recorded that his sources were telling him the Vice President had ordered an examination of the Niger uranium story over a year ago, and that the resulting investigation employed no less than a former U.S. ambassador (unnamed). The results--that the documents upon which the story was based were phonies--came back in February 2002, and were widely circulated throughout the administration, but, months later, the administration was still publicly hawking the story as genuine. The Pincus story confirms that there was, in fact, an investigation in early 2002, but claims the CIA essentially kept the results to themselves, which doesn't exactly sound likely.
A Knight-Ridder story, today, raises further questions about this element of the Pincus account:
"A senior CIA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the intelligence agency informed the White House on March 9, 2002--10 months before Bush's nationally televised speech--that an agency source who had traveled to Niger could not confirm European intelligence reports that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from the West African country."
This article, by Jonathan Landay, is the third version of these events offered by administration sources, and is, in its details, much closer to the Kristof version. Landay and Kristof agree that the CIA didn't keep the results of the investigation to itself (which puts them in disagreement with Pincus). The Landay piece even provides a date for when the White House was informed--March 9, 2002, which would have been right after the results of the investigation came back in the Kristof story. It also says:
"The CIA's March 2002 warning about Iraq's alleged uranium-shopping expedition in Niger was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice Department and the FBI the same day it went to the White House, the CIA official said."
That's an official, it's worth noting, which Landay writes was one "who defended the White House's handling of the matter."
"Three senior administration officials said Vice President Dick Cheney and some officials on the National Security Council staff and at the Pentagon ignored the CIA's reservations and argued that the president and others should include the allegation in their case against Saddam."
All of this will be verifiable, if true. Documentation and witnesses will exist. This is where congressional investigators examining the Iraq intelligence scandal should start looking.
What is clear, from all three reports, is that there was an investigation in early 2002, long before the administration started citing the story, and that this investigation did conclude the story was bogus, in contravention of the administration's later claims. Even in the unlikely case that some expanation should now arise for the rest of the administration not knowing this, it's clear that the information was readily available to them if they were at all interested in the truth, as opposed to merely interested in propaganda aimed at dragging the U.S. into war. The investigation may have been ordered by the Vice President and carried out by a former ambassador, in which case all claims by administration higher-ups that they didn't know about the results are almost certainly blown right out of the water. Two of the three reports say the results of the investigation were widely circulated within the administration, and the Landay piece offers a very convincing piece of evidence of this by providing an actual date.[*]
[*] This opens a new question about the Pincus account. Was it an attempt, by his sources--a.k.a. people in the administration--at damage control? It may have just been people not in the know, but then, again...
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