Saturday :: Feb 3, 2007

The "Scooter" Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 4: The Under-Reported War on Joseph Wilson

by eriposte

[Preface: In the past week, in the midst of her incredible live-blogging effort at FDL, Emptywheel also took some time to send me links to some of the documents from the trial proceedings that have been made public by Libby's legal firm. Since then, I became aware that the AP has helpfully posted all the defense and prosecution exhibits here. This post is the fourth one (see Parts 1, 2 and 3) focused on offering some observations and analysis on some of these documents. Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

In this post I'm going to talk about another very significant aspect of the uranium from Africa scandal - a highly under-reported dimension to the Bush administration's war on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, viz., the Bush administration's fraudulent misuse of Wilson's Niger trip to cover-up for their use of the false uranium from Africa claim. Stunningly, this brazen war continues to this day, as evident from the deceptive line of questioning used by Libby's lawyer William Jeffress against reporter Matt Cooper earlier this week. Since I cover a fair amount of ground in this post, I've divided it into 4 sections (NOTE: All emphasis in this post in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated).

1. CIA (WINPAC) and Wilson's trip

2. DIA and Wilson's trip

3. The Bush administration, Libby and Jeffress

4. Notes on Wilson's trip

1. CIA (WINPAC) and Wilson's trip

As I have mentioned previously in this series, one of the documents released last week is an undated (or April 3, 2003?) intelligence community memo (labeled DX64) that was forwarded to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in early June 2003 (it appears this might be a WINPAC memo). Page 9 of this document has the following passage:

25. [DELETED] On 4-5 February 2003, the U.S. briefed INVO in response to Baute's request from 6 January for information on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium agreement. Members of the US Mission to the IAEA in Vienna presented the information and analyses as(?) compiled by CIA. This Intelligence Community-cleared briefing indicated, "Two streams of reporting suggest Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program." The two streams of reporting referred to in this briefing came from the sensitive source described in paragraph six of this notification [SENTENCES DELETED].

A reading of paragraph six makes it obvious that the "sensitive source" being referred to here is former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (and the CIA report of his findings from his 2002 trip to Niger).

I commented about the "two streams" of reporting in Part 2 of this series, but here's something even more significant about the above passage.

Up until February 2003, when the Bush administration was forced to provide evidence to the UN to support Bush's uranium from Africa allegation, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip had never been used by the US intelligence community (IC) in support of the uranium from Africa allegation. In particular, Wilson's findings had not been used as a piece of supporting evidence for/in the October 2002 NIE and had not been used as evidence for Bush's Jan 2003 SOTU claim (which in fact referred to the British claim). To the contrary, the intelligence community had specifically declined to use his findings because they felt that his trip did not provide credible evidence that Iraq had sought (or purchased) uranium from Niger. In fact, even the British Government's uranium claim was never based on any findings from Wilson's trip (especially since the CIA did not discuss Wilson's trip with the UK at that time).

To fully understand the significance of my comments, let's start by briefly going back in time to review some pertinent history.

Shortly after Wilson's July 2003 op-ed, George Tenet issued a statement which included the following comment:

...[Wilson's] report, in our view, did not resolve whether Iraq was or was not seeking uranium from abroad...

Additionally, as the Phase I SSCI report said in 2004:

(U) DIA and CIA analysts said that when they saw the intelligence report they did not believe that it supplied much new information and did not think that it clarified the story on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal. They did not find Nigerien denials that they had discussed uranium sales with Iraq as very surprising because they had no expectation that Niger would admit to such an agreement if it did exist. The analysts did, however, find it interesting that the former Nigerien Prime Minister said an Iraqi delegation had visited Niger for what he believed was to discuss uranium sales. [eRiposte note: This is an incorrect piece of information that propagated far and wide. Wilson said an Iraqi delegation met the Nigerien Prime Minister in Algiers, not in Niger. More on this in Sec. 3].

(U) Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers. For the same reason, CIA's briefer did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President's previous questions about the issue. [page 46]

Let's set aside the merits of Tenet's and the CIA (WINPAC)/DIA claims about the value of Wilson's trip, since a careful review of the facts show that Wilson's trip went a long way in debunking the original Niger uranium allegations. Let's focus instead on the implication of the expressed CIA/DIA positions (notice that the second paragraph above conspicuously excludes the DIA - more on that in Sec. 2). The implication of the statements made (presumably under oath) to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is that the CIA and DIA believed that Joseph Wilson's trip did not offer credible evidence for the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger and that the CIA therefore decided not to use the results of his trip to prepare analytical papers supporting the uranium allegation.

It is therefore no surprise that, up until the U.S. Government sent some information to the IAEA in February 2003, none of the US IC reports mentioned in the SSCI report claimed that Wilson's trip somehow constituted part of the evidence for the Bush administration's allegation that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Yet, faced with the need to provide the IAEA some "proof", someone in the US IC (likely from WINPAC - since WINPAC was the entity that sent out some documents to the IAEA per paragraph 24 of the DX64 memo) dug up the Wilson trip report and falsely portrayed it as if it was a piece of supporting evidence for the Bush administration's allegation. As astounding as this travesty was, it is obvious why they did it. After all, they had nothing else to show as "proof" other than the Niger claims that emanated from the forged documents. (Even in the latter case, they hid one of the most obvious forgeries from the IAEA.)

To summarize: Wilson's findings from his 2002 trip to Niger were not really considered supporting evidence for the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. However, when faced with the deep embarrassment of having peddled a fake story, the Bush administration dug up the findings from his trip and falsely portrayed it as if it constituted supporting evidence.

That's not all.

2. DIA and Wilson's trip

What is equally fascinating is that a similar episode played out in March 2003 after the IAEA dismissed the uranium allegations as being based on forgeries. In this case, the offending intelligence agency was the DIA. The DIA also tried to peddle the false claim that Wilson's findings somehow supported the uranium claim, contradicting what they told the SSCI (again, presumably under oath). Here is an extract of what I reported on this last year:

To understand the significance of the March 8, 2003 DIA memo, we should keep in mind that when a CIA report was issued on Wilson's trip exactly one year prior to this DIA memo, the CIA report and Wilson's findings were not considered credible evidence for the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. Both CIA and DIA analysts directly confirmed this to the SSCI. It is therefore not a surprise that Wilson's trip was not used in the NIE as being part of the basis for the uranium allegation. It was also not used in the British White paper (especially since the CIA evidently did not discuss Wilson's trip with the UK at that time). In other words, the Bush administration's (mis)use of the Wilson trip in summer 2003 was purely aimed at fabricating a fake, after-the-fact justification for the false uranium claim.

On March 8, 2003, Joseph Wilson was interviewed on CNN and he was quite critical of the U.S. Government's use of the forgeries and the absurd explanation given by a U.S. Government official to the Washington Post that "we fell for it". Wilson also said that "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". That was of course quite accurate - the U.S. Government knew a lot more about the bogus nature of the forgeries than they let on at that time - so it would be quite surprising if the Bush-Cheney administration didn't even bother to take a look at who Wilson was.

Since Wilson's March 8, 2003 CNN interview may have been a thorn in the eyes of the White House:

  • It is rather interesting that a March 8, 2003 DIA memo dug up the report on Wilson's trip from a year earlier and dishonestly tried to peddle that as somehow supporting the uranium claim (after the Niger documents had been shown to be bogus).
  • It is even more interesting that this is the *only* known DIA report that portrayed Wilson's trip as somehow supporting the uranium allegation [All DIA reports discussed in the SSCI Report and dated prior to and subsequent to the March 8, 2003 DIA memo did not use Wilson's trip to support the uranium claim.]

[...] More importantly though, it showed that the DIA, evidently for the first time cited Wilson's trip as supporting the uranium allegation, thereby raising the possibility that this was dug up after Wilson's CNN appearance.

Even if this memo did not dig up Wilson's trip report after his appearance on CNN, the significance of the memo cannot be understated. After all, those who are following this scandal closely will recall that it was after reading the February 12, 2002 DIA report on Niger uranium that the Vice President "asked" for the CIA's analysis on the uranium allegation.
As of today, we do not know whether this March 8, 2003 DIA memo specifically mentioned Wilson's name - but that is one of the reasons why it would be good to see this memo declassified to verify whether it did. If it did reveal his name, then a confirmation of the recipients of the memo (outside of the Secretary of Defense) and the people who were made aware of its contents would reveal whether this constituted independent evidence for the White House's early knowledge of Wilson and his trip. Even if Wilson's name was not revealed in this March 2003 DIA memo, the memo provided the White House with so-called 'other evidence' for the uranium claim outside of the Niger forgeries and they would surely have followed up on it to find out more. It is implausible to think that the White House (including Cheney), facing a PR nightmare, would not try to dredge up everything they could get their hands on in an attempt to fight back. I therefore urge all reporters covering the Plame case find out more about the contents of the March 8, 2003 DIA memo, the events within the Bush administration that led to this memo being written and what happened after the memo's release.

Emptywheel wrote more about this as well. The story does not end here, however.

3. The Bush administration, Libby and Jeffress

In summer 2003, like many others in the Bush administration, Scooter Libby was perpetuating the false story about Wilson's trip to Judith Miller, i.e. he was portraying Wilson's trip as supporting evidence for Bush's uranium from Africa SOTU allegation despite the fact that the U.S. IC had clearly never used this claim in the Oct 2002 NIE or as supporting evidence leading up to Bush's 2003 SOTU allegation. In fact, Libby was peddling this story about Wilson's trip even after being informed that the CIA had withdrawn the uranium allegation entirely - another key fact that was not disclosed in the Phase I SSCI report. By July 11, 2003, when Tenet made his public statement, it was very clear that Wilson's trip was not considered supporting evidence for the uranium from Africa allegation. That, however, did not stop this false claim regarding Wilson's trip to continue pervading the airwaves - or for that matter the editorial pages of major newspapers.

Libby's actions - and that of other Bush administration officials - was nothing short of character assassination (of Wilson) and gross abuse of intelligence for nakedly partisan political ends. It constituted deliberate, revisionist history (about the significance of Wilson's trip) purely to smear a Bush administration critic who had courageously come forward to reveal the Niger uranium hoax perpetrated by the Bush administration. This had nothing to do with providing "facts". It had everything to do with inventing fictional history to make the critic look bad in the eyes of the public. Needless to say, this tactic was blindly adopted by many of the administration's propagandists on the Right (example), even after Tenet's statement was released in July 2003 and after the SSCI report came out in the following year.

In some respects, perhaps the biggest scandal of all is the fact that the smearing and revisionist history continues even today, despite the statements in the Phase I SSCI report in which the CIA and DIA unequivocally acknowledged that Wilson's trip was never considered supporting evidence for the uranium claim, and despite former DCI George Tenet's unequivocal statement confirming the same. Earlier this week, one of Libby's lawyers (William Jeffress) was trying desperately to claim that somehow Libby's response to Wilson was motivated by the need to correct the record and state the 'facts'. What I'm referring to here is Jeffress' questions to Matt Cooper (see DX816 - Cooper's notes on Libby's call; DX820 - Cooper's email on the call) hinting at how Wilson's trip was allegedly supportive of the Bush administration's uranium claim. The extract below is reproduced from Marcy's notes from her liveblogging and is not a complete transcript:

[Libby's lawyer Jeffress] now going to Mayaki part of Wilson's statement.

[Libby's lawyer Jeffress] Is there anything you would call disparaging

[Matt Cooper] I do believe this bit about the PM was an effort to criticize Wilson's method while he was in Niger.

[Libby's lawyer Jeffress] So we understand, if someone reports my report disproves Niger was trying acquire, and official says Iraq WAS trying to acquire, you would qualify this was trying to disparage

Yes, Mr. Jeffress and shame on you for perpetuating the lies of your client in a trial despite the fact that the truth has been revealed to be the opposite for years now. Libby's actions - and that of other Bush administration officials who peddled the same lie - were an obvious attempt to falsely disparage Wilson given the fact that the CIA and DIA had acknowledged in sworn testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) years ago that they did not consider the Mayaki claim conclusive and that they did not believe that Wilson's trip supported the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. For you to ignore all of that and make it seem like Libby was just trying to state the facts is a travesty in itself. For you, as Libby's lawyer, to peddle this claim that somehow the Mayaki statement was considered proof of Iraq having sought uranium is extremely disappointing. As your client's counsel you have an ethical responsibility to check out the facts of your arguments to be certain that you, yourself, are not repeating factual inaccuracies to the judge and jury.

4. Notes on Wilson's trip

To provide additional context, I'm going to refresh our memories on some key aspects pertaining to the intel that sent Wilson to Niger and what Wilson found as part of his trip.

(a) The intelligence that led to Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger was intelligence that alleged that Iraq had bought/purchased uranium from Niger.

A review of the relevant intel and the October 2002 NIE makes this very clear. The intel did not allege that Iraq had merely sought uranium from Niger. A careful study of the SSCI report makes it obvious that the term "sought" (or similar words) were introduced by the U.S. IC, just as they were by British intelligence in the Sep 2002 British White Paper, to describe the intel alleging a uranium purchase but to downplay the certainty of the purchase to reflect the doubts about the intel's veracity. Examples include the 2/12/02 DIA report, the 5/10/02 CIA NESA report, the Sep 2002 DIA report, and the 9/11/02 WINPAC/NSC speech draft. In other words, the terms "sought" or "attempts to obtain" and so on, as used by U.S and/or British intelligence agencies, were never intended to describe a situation where Iraq had merely sought uranium from Niger. They were always intended to describe intel alleging that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, but in a manner that downplayed the certainty associated with the intel. In fact, even the fraudulent link to Wissam Al-Zahawie was in the context of the fictitious story that Al-Zahawie began a quest for uranium in Niger in February 1999 that culminated in a uranium purchase deal that he played a role in closing in July 2000. This is the very fiction that was deliberately introduced into the Niger forgeries.

(b) Wilson's findings debunked the original Niger uranium intel which alleged the purchase of uranium - the very intel that was the basis of the October 2002 NIE claim pertaining to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger.

If you want to cite Wilson's report as a factual report (not just because it got a grade of "good" but because information from his Nigerien sources has been bandied about by Bush administration officials as facts) let's note that, to start with, there was not a single report found by Wilson that any Iraqi had ever uttered the word "uranium" to any Nigerien official (or vice versa) in years. There was not a single piece of documentary evidence found by Wilson, relating to Iraq and Niger, that even mentioned uranium (seeking or buying). In particular, he found no evidence to corroborate the two Niger uranium intel reports that were received by the CIA prior to his trip:

  • No Nigerien official claimed during his trip and he found no documentary or circumstantial evidence for the claim that Wissam Al-Zahawie's trip to Niger in February 1999 had anything to do with seeking uranium (not even the former Nigerien PM Ibrahim Mayaki - whom the Bush administration used for one of their favorite, fraudulent talking points discussed above - claimed that he thought Zahawie's visit had anything to do with uranium.)
  • No Nigerien official claimed during his trip and he found no documentary or circumstantial evidence for the claim that Niger had signed a purchase deal with Iraq at any time in the past decade to sell Iraq uranium

(c) The alleged meeting in Niger sometime after June 1999 between the Nigerien official Mayaki and an Iraqi "trade" delegation never occurred (even Mayaki later denied that this occurred). This was a myth that seems to have been created by the CIA report on Wilson's trip - a myth which got progressively magnified and perhaps deliberately conflated with the Al-Zahawie visit of February 1999 (by using just the year "1999") in order to deliberately mislead people unfamiliar with the information.

Let's set aside for a minute the fact that the CIA and DIA had not considered the Mayaki comments as supportive of the Bush administration's uranium allegation, as I discussed in sections 1 and 2. The alleged discussion in June 1999 between Mayaki and a "businessman" relating to Iraq's alleged interest in "commercial relations" with Niger - which Mayaki allegedly interpreted as an overture to discuss "uranium sales" - if anything disproved the intel which claimed that Iraq had sought and purchased 500 tons of uranium. After all, Mayaki never said that the Iraqis sought uranium or that a uranium deal was completed based on his meetings. Indeed, the businessman never mentioned the word "uranium" and "commercial relations" could easily have involved Iraq's biggest export - oil products (e.g, see the ISG report). What is key is that a meeting did occur between a Nigerien delegation and an Iraqi delegation in July 1999 but not in Niger (as one might assume reading the SSCI Report). Rather it was at the Organization of African Unity meeting in Algiers. This meeting had nothing whatsoever to do with uranium (which even the British knew and acknowledged in their Butler Report). In other words, the Mayaki interaction with Baghdad Bob was in this July 1999 meeting - the same meeting that the British Government never considered to have anything to do with Iraq seeking uranium. Further, even if the (fictitious) Niger and Iraq-"trade"-delegation meeting had occurred in Niger, the narrative about Mayaki "steering" discussions away from "trade" ("uranium") was nonsensical. In other words, only in the Orwellian world of George W. Bush and his neocons would a delegation that came all the way to Niger at great cost and secrecy to discuss "trade" ("uranium"), return back to their home country without even bringing up the matter of "trade" let alone "uranium", simply because their host had the gift of steering conversations to topics (other than "trade") that the delegation never came there to discuss.

(d) An often missed part of the narrative regarding Wilson's trip is the assurance received from another former senior Nigerien minister Mai Manga that Iran had recently sought uranium from Niger, but Iraq had most certainly not. This is significant since the words of a different Nigerien official - Mayaki - that were falsely portrayed as somehow supporting the Iraq uranium claim were conveniently trusted by Wilson's critics.

What's also interesting here is a new piece of information that got declassified and released as part of the Libby trial proceedings. This document released last week contains what appears to be the CIA's report on Joseph Wilson's trip on pages 8 and 9. Here's a paragraph that caught my attention:


Here's the corresponding passage from the Phase I SSCI Report:

The intelligence report also said that Niger's former Minister for Energy and Mines [DELETED], Mai Manga, stated that there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s. He knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium. He said that an Iranian delegation was interested in purchasing 400 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1998, but said that no contract was ever signed with Iran. Mai Manga also described how the French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas. Mai Manga believed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls. [page 44]

Notice an important difference between what is in the CIA report on Wilson's trip and what made it into the Phase I SSCI report? It begins with the letter P. (I never cease to be amazed at how much the Bush administration has kept protecting the Government of Pakistan, which is perhaps the most significant nuclear proliferator in the world and one of the world's long time state sponsors of terrorism, i.e. George Bush's and Dick Cheney's definition of a rogue state great "ally". Let's just say that I never expected to find another example in the Libby trial documents. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why Iran was called out in the SSCI report but not Pakistan.)

To summarize: A series of events - one of which was entirely made up - in which no Iraqi or Iraqi proxy uttered the word "uranium" or mentioned "uranium" in any document are somehow considered by Libby, his lawyer and their pals in the Bush administration as shomehow supportive of the premise that Iraq was recently seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Indeed, the CIA and DIA did not really consider Wilson's trip as supporting the "sought uranium" allegation. Despite this, the Bush administration continued - and Libby and his lawyer still continue - to peddle the fiction that Wilson's trip provided support for the uranium claim.

eriposte :: 5:58 PM :: Comments (8) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!