Monday :: Jul 11, 2005

Treasongate (Part V): Flashback on Uranium and Africa

by eriposte

Newsweek has the bombshell Rove-related story in Treasongate, which makes it clear that Rove did in fact reveal that Valerie Plame was a CIA WMD expert to Time magazine's Matt Cooper - the legal significance of which is being discussed at Daily Kos and Talk Left and the national security and moral significance of which has been quite appropriately laid out by Arthur Silber (via Crooks and Liars) [also see coverage at Think Progress and Eschaton]. Considering this development, there is one aspect of Treasongate that needs to be reiterated emphatically because even people like Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler let themselves get bamboozled by this, back in 2003. Steve touched on this aspect when he asked about CBS's shelving of plans to air an episode about the Bush administration's distortion of truth on the uranium in Africa SOTU fiasco.

The 16 words relating to Saddam's alleged attempt to seek uranium from Africa was the controversy which ultimately brought Joseph Wilson out of the woodwork, so-to-speak, thereby leading to Treasongate. However, after initially admitting that those 16 words should not have been included in the SOTU, furious spin and serial lying ensued from the White House (helpfully spread uncritically by its right-wing propagandists in the media) about how the claim itself was not false. Unfortunately, even folks like Somerby (Daily Howler) and Spinsanity didn't pay attention to all the facts - something they criticized the Bush critics for, over the 16 words - and allowed the White House's fake spin to take root.

I'm resuscitating the "16 words" issue because some of the history preceding Treasongate sheds better light on the Bush administration's real motives behind their treasonous act, i.e., the act had little to do with discrediting Wilson for saying something inaccurate, it had everything to do with covering up all their own lies on Uraniumgate, while trashing Wilson (and his wife) falsely, in the process. (NOTE: this post is based on the detailed work I did on this topic at my sister website Compassiongate.)

The first piece of spin used by the Bushies to try and save face was to claim that the SOTU statement referred to Africa, not just Niger or the forged Niger documents. That this was post-hoc fakery to cover up the SOTU fakery became obvious on multiple occasions. Some examples:

  • Why did Ari Fleischer say that the Bushies only discovered after the SOTU that the documents that formed the basis of the SOTU reference were forged?
  • Why would Ari Fleischer make statements that the SOTU was "based and predicated...on Niger" even when told that the administration had been claiming that Africa is a superset of Niger?
  • Why would Ari Fleischer keep referring to the President's SOTU reference as being to Niger (not Africa) even when he defended the statement as being valid because it applies to Africa as a whole and not just Niger?
  • Why would Condi Rice, in her first Meet the Press interview on this topic prior to Joseph Wilson's op-ed, respond to a "uranium in Africa" question framed by equating Africa and Niger, by only referring to the forged Niger documents, and not making it clear Africa and Niger were quite different?
  • Why did the State Department's Paul Kelly write back to Rep. Henry Waxman specifically on behalf of the White House, in April 2003, on the topic of Bush's "uranium in Africa" SOTU statement by citing only the forged (Niger) documents as the evidence that had been used for the SOTU statement?
  • If the issue was about "Africa" and not just Niger, why did the Bush administration cite Niger explicitly in the State Department response to Iraq and provide the forged Niger documents to the IAEA as the sole proof of the "uranium in Africa" claim, after the SOTU?

The second piece of spin used by the Bushies was to claim that the SOTU statement was backed up by other reports (outside Niger) - not merely British assertions. This was, of course, also post-hoc fakery, as seen from the following examples:

  • Why would Ari Fleischer state that he had said "many times" that "we don't know if it's true" whether Iraq even sought to purchase uranium in Africa (let alone Iraq actually purchasing uranium).
  • Why would the Bush administration's NSC spokesman say this: "..."There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa," the statement said. "However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made." In other words, said one senior official, "we couldn't prove it, and it might in fact be wrong."..."
  • Why would Colin Powell drop any references to uranium in Africa a few days after the SOTU because it hadn't stood the "test of time" and because "the basis upon which that statement was made didn't hold up"?
  • Why did Stephen Hadley of the NSA say that "...George Tenet had a brief telephone conversation with me during the clearance process for the October 7 Cincinnati speech. This was the one -- he asked that any reference to Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium from sources from Africa to be deleted from the speech. [my emphasis]..." This was reiterated in a report from Dana Priest: "...a senior administration official with knowledge of the Tenet-Hadley conversation disputed the White House version. "The line he asked to take out wasn't about 500 tons of uranium or a single source. It was about Africa and uranium," the official said. Even the broader assertion about Africa "wasn't firm enough. It was shaky." ..."..."
  • Why would the NIE include a dissent that " intelligence officials at the State Department believed "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious."..."
  • As Paul Sperry said in WND: "...[the White House] points to the select parts of the NIE it declassified last week citing Somalia and Congo. But there are problems with this explanation, as well... two things are missing from the alleged Somalia and Congo connections: the amounts of uranium and the dates they were sought. The Niger claim, on the other hand, cites both amount and date. Discussed earlier on the same page of the NIE, it says that Iraq was "working out arrangements for ... up to 500 tons of yellowcake" as of early 2001. So it's unlikely the president was referring to Somalia or Congo when he asserted Hussein "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." ..."
  • Why would then DCI George Tenet state that the NIE "...contained three paragraphs that discuss Iraq's significant 550-metric-ton uranium stockpile and how it could be diverted while under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard. These paragraphs also cited reports that Iraq began "vigorously trying to procure" more uranium from Niger and two other African countries, which would shorten the time Baghdad needed to produce nuclear weapons...Much later in the N.I.E. text, in presenting an alternate view on another matter, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research included a sentence that states: "Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in I.N.R.'s assessment, highly dubious."...An unclassified C.I.A. White Paper in October made no mention of the issue, again because it was not fundamental to the judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, and because we had questions about some of the reporting. For the same reasons, the subject was not included in many public speeches, Congressional testimony and the secretary of state's United Nations presentation in early 2003. The background above makes it even more troubling that the 16 words eventually made it into the State of the Union speech [CG emphasis]..."
  • As TNR said, "...Bush, after all, did not state that the British "believed" Saddam had tried to buy uranium or even that the British "claimed" he had done so. Rather, he said the British "had learned" that this was the case, a phrasing clearly implying that the president believed the Brits to be correct--a position his own intelligence agencies had explicitly disavowed..." Indeed Paul Sperry pointed out in WND that: "...Also, other top administration officials, including the president's security adviser and defense secretary, have made the accusation on their own – without any attribution to Britain..."
  • Why would the Bush administration even announce that the statement should never have been in the SOTU if it was still correct and there was no evidence suggesting it was wrong? Remember, the announcement came in response to media reports alleging that the Niger evidence was bogus.

There's a lot more analysis of this issue (and others) at Compassiongate, but the bottom line is simple. After the IAEA exposed the Niger forgeries and after Joseph Wilson came out with his op-ed, the Bush administration had to do something to control the damage in the media because of their initial admission of guilt on the inappropriateness of the 16 words. So, they began a lie-filled spin operation to bamboozle the media and citizens about the validity of the uranium in Africa claim (deflecting attention from the Niger forgeries), while going after Wilson for having publicly exposed part of the administration's fakery.

P.S. A final point regarding Bob Somerby's coverage of this matter. Somerby tries to be fair and I suspect he was trying to do the same here. But, despite my emails to him he refused to correct the gaping holes in his conclusions, which were arrived at based on incomplete data. He also went rather out of his way, in my opinion, to allow his judgment to be swayed by extraordinarily weak information. For example, he gave importance to a report on alleged Iraqi interest in the Congo on "minerals, possibly including uranium" and on Joseph Wilson's report that a " June 1999 a businessman approached [an official in Niger] and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales..." (even though there is not a shred of evidence that the Iraqi delegation actually was interested in discussing uranium!). Thus, "possibly" and "interpreted" are provided as defenses for a statement (the 16 words) that is characterized as "may be accurate" while ignoring numerous facts that contradict this supposition.

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