Monday :: Jul 7, 2003

Bush WMD Lies Exposed by Hand-Picked Ambassador on Niger Story


by Steve

When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t get any more damning than this: the ambassador hand-picked by the Bush Administration to look into the Niger nuclear materials justification used by the Bushies to invade has come clean and called them liars.

Joseph C. Wilson, the retired United States ambassador whose CIA-directed mission to Niger in early 2002 helped debunk claims that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium there for nuclear weapons, has said for the first time publicly that U.S. and British officials ignored his findings and exaggerated the public case for invading Iraq.

Wilson, whose 23-year career included senior positions in Africa and Iraq, where he was acting ambassador in 1991, said the false allegations that Iraq was trying to buy uranium oxide from Niger about three years ago were used by President Bush and senior administration officials as a central piece of evidence to support their assertions that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

"It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification for going to war," Wilson said yesterday. "It begs the question, what else are they lying about?"

The CIA turned to Wilson in February 2002 because of his extensive experience with intelligence and his relationship with senior officials in Niger. Wilson's account of his eight-day mission to Niger, including a statement he was told Vice President Cheney's staff was interested in the truth of the allegations, has not been contradicted by administration officials, but they have played down his importance and denied his accusations.

In September 2002, the story of Iraq purchasing uranium in Africa made its way into a published British dossier on Hussein's weapons of mass destruction that got wide coverage. Wilson was perplexed. "[I]t was unfathomable to me that this information would not have been shared" with the British, he said.

In late September, CIA Director George J. Tenet and top aides made two presentations in closed session on Capitol Hill. They said there was information that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium but that there was some doubt the information was credible. But on Dec. 19, 2002, a State Department fact sheet listed attempts to purchase uranium, specifically from Niger, as an item omitted from Iraq's supposedly full disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction program.

Bush, in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 23, declared that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

After Bush's speech, Wilson said he contacted the State Department, noted that the Niger story had been debunked and said, "You might want to make sure the facts are straight."

In early February, the CIA received a translation of the Niger documents and in early March, copies of the documents, which it turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency. After IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei announced they were bogus, Wilson read a March 8 front-page story in The Washington Post that quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying, "We fell for it."

The quote provided "a wake-up call . . . that somebody was not being candid about this Niger business," he said. Interviewed that day on CNN, Wilson said: "I think it's safe to say that the U.S. government should have or did know that this report was a fake before Dr. ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the U.N. yesterday."

In June, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that top administration officials were unaware of the faked documents at the time of the State of the Union. "Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery."

But Wilson said he considers that "inconceivable." Based on his experience at the NSC, Wilson does not believe his report would have been buried. Having been told the vice president's office was interested, he said, "If you are senior enough to ask this question, you are well above the bowels of the bureaucracy. You are in that circle."

In other words, Condi Rice lied to Tim Russert and got away with it. Instead, Russert reserved his energy and journalistic instincts for sandbagging Howard Dean with a dishonest Treasury Department report on repealing the Bush tax cuts.

Note again that Walter Pincus, the CIA's man at the Post, co-wrote this story, which means that it has George Tenet's fingerprints all over it. As such, it should not be surprising that when you read the story closely, it tars everyone but the CIA. Tenet will manage to implicate everyone else before this is over, and that includes Colin Powell and Condi Rice. The more the Administration points at the CIA, the more Tenet will make them pay for it.

Quite simply folks, Ambassador Wilson says it better than I ever can: if the Bushies are lying about what and when they knew about the phony Niger uranium story, then they are likely lying about everything else. And the polls are starting to show this. As I indicated last week, a University of Maryland poll now shows that a majority of those asked believe that the Administration was not being fully truthful about either Saddam’s WMD capabilities, or his alleged connection with Al Qaeda.

The issue of Bush’s lack of credibility is finally a campaign issue. And it can no longer be debated, given Wilson's damaging information that his debunking of the Niger story went to both the NSC and State at high enough levels, that both Condi Rice and Colin Powell have lied to the American people about what they knew and when they knew it.

Steve :: 4:34 PM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!