Saturday :: Feb 17, 2007

The "Scooter" Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 7: The Under-Reported War on Joseph Wilson - Part II


by eriposte

[Preface: This post is the seventh of a series (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6) focused on offering some observations and analysis on some of the documents released during the Libby trial. Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

In Part 4 of this series I wrote about an under-reported aspect of the Bush administration's war on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson - specifically, how the Bush administration used revisionist history about Wilson's Niger trip to falsely claim that his findings supported their uranium from Africa allegation. There's a second, related aspect to this character assassination of Wilson, which I briefly hinted at in Part 4 and which I discuss here - namely, revisionist history about where an Iraqi delegation met with a Nigerien official in mid-1999. This constituted a serious distortion of Wilson's claim that would subsequently serve as another weapon for the Bush administration to repeatedly deceive the public. I first addressed this issue in some detail as part of my interview of Ambassador Wilson in August 2005. Marcy also covered this topic in the context of a broader analysis of the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip in November 2005. New evidence has now emerged from some of the declassified documents from the Libby trial - including the actual CIA DO report on Wilson's trip - that sheds more light on the genesis of this distortion.

For clarity, I've separated this post into the following sections. (All emphasis in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated.)

1. What Wilson stated

2. What the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip said about Wilson's statement

3. What the SSCI report said about the CIA DO report's rendering of Wilson's statement

4. What the CIA DO reports officer and WINPAC/DIA analysts told the SSCI about Wilson's statement

5. What the U.K. Butler report said about Wilson's statement

6. How and when did the incorrect claim about Wilson's statement originate in U.S. IC reporting?

7. Conclusions


1. What Wilson stated

Wilson reported the following in his book "The Politics of Truth" which was first released on April 30, 2004:

Before I left Niger, I provided a member of the American Embassy staff with an extensive briefing....I described a conversation with one of my sources. He had mentioned to me that on the margins of a ministerial meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1999, a Nigerien businessman had asked him to meet with an Iraqi official to discuss trade. My contact said that alarm bells had immediately gone off in his mind. Well aware of United Nations sanctions on Iraq, he met with the Iraqi only briefly and avoided any substantive issues. As he told me this, he hesitated and looked up to the sky as if plumbing the depths of his memory, then offered that perhaps the Iraqi might [emphasis in original - ed.] have wanted to talk about uranium. But since there had been no discussion of uranium - my contact was idly speculating when he mentioned it - there was no story. [page 28]

[...]

Within an hour of my return to Washington in early March 2002, a CIA reports officer, at my request, arrived at my home. Over Chinese takeout, I gave him the same details of my trip and conclusions that I had provided to Owens-Kirkpatrick in Niamey before my departure. These included the account of the meeting between my Nigerien contact and the Iraqi official on the margins of the OAU meeting, as well as my observations about where our government might inquire further if it was not persuaded by my report or those of the ambassador and the general whose inquiries had preceded mine. [page 29]

Wilson also made the same point in some of his interviews.

Bottom line: Wilson has always stated that the Iraqi-Nigerien meeting in question occurred at the margins of an OAU meeting - a meeting that took place in Algiers, not Niger (evidently in July 1999).


2. What the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip said about Wilson's statement

The newly declassified March 8, 2002 CIA DO report on Wilson's trip (DX71, pages 8 and 9) says:

MAYAKI, HOWEVER, DID RELATE THAT IN JUNE 1999 BARKA ((TEFRIDJ)), A NIGERIEN/ALGERIAN BUSINESSMAN, APPROACHED HIM AND INSISTED THAT MAYAKI MEET WITH AN IRAQI DELEGATION TO DISCUSS "EXPANDING COMMERCIAL RELATIONS" BETWEEN NIGER AND IRAQ. ALTHOUGH [THE MEETING TOOK?] PLACE, MAYAKI LET THE MATTER DROP DUE TO THE UNITED NATIONS (UN) SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ AND THE FACT THAT HE OPPOSED DOING BUSINESS WITH IRAQ. MAYAKI SAID THAT HE INTERPRETED THE PHRASE "EXPANDING COMMERCIAL RELATIONS" TO MEAN THAT IRAQ WANTED TO DISCUSS URANIUM YELLOWCAKE SALES. MAYAKI SAID HE UNDERSTOOD ROGUE STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXPLOIT NIGER'S RESOURCES, SPECIFICALLY URANIUM, BUT HE BELIEVED THE NIGERIEN GOVERNMENT'S REGARD FOR THE UNITED STATES (U.S.) AS A CLOSE ALLY WOULD PREVENT SALES TO THESE STATES FROM TAKING PLACE DESPITE NIGER'S ECONOMIC WOES.

Bottom line: The CIA DO report does not in any way suggest that an Iraqi delegation traveled to Niger in mid-1999 for the meeting in question. However, the report omitted the fact that this meeting occurred in Algiers.


3. What the SSCI report said about the CIA DO report's rendering of Wilson's statement

The Phase I SSCI report came out in July 2004, roughly a month following the first release of Joseph Wilson's book and well after Wilson's other public statements about the Algiers meeting. One section of the SSCI report says:

The [CIA DO] intelligence report [on Wilson's trip] indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [DELETED] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq." [page 43]

Bottom line: The description in the above section is very similar to that in the CIA DO report (section 2 above) in that there is no claim made that the Iraqi delegation traveled to Niger in mid-1999. However, the SSCI report also omitted the fact that this meeting occurred in Algiers.


4. What the CIA DO reports officer and WINPAC/DIA analysts told the SSCI about Wilson's statement

Interestingly, when the SSCI interviewed the reports officer who wrote the Wilson trip report:

The reports officer said that a "good" grade was merited because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerien officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting. [page 46]

When some CIA WINPAC and DIA analysts were interviewed by the SSCI, here is what they claimed:

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. [page 46]

The pathetic SSCI report made no attempt to correct the record (more on this in section 5 below) and instead, allowed these false claims to bolster the White House's character assassination campaign against Joseph Wilson.

Bottom line: Even though Amb. Wilson indicated that the meeting in question occurred in Algiers and even though the CIA DO reports officer's own report said nothing about Iraqi officials making a trip to Niger in mid-1999, the reports officer incorrectly asserted to the SSCI that Wilson somehow claimed that the Iraqi delegation visited Niger (as opposed to Algiers). WINPAC and DIA analysts, likewise, made wrong assertions to the SSCI, despite the contents of the CIA DO report.


5. What the U.K. Butler report said about Wilson's statement

The Butler report also came out in July 2004, around the same time that the Phase I SSCI report came out. However, in contrast to the pathetic SSCI report, the otherwise egregious Butler report managed to accurately reflect Wilson's claim regarding the mid-1999 meeting and even took the surprising step of clearly separating that meeting from a visit by former Iraqi ambassador Wissam Al-Zahawie to Niger and three other non-uranium-producing African countries in Feb 1999:

493. In early 1999, Iraqi officials visited a number of African countries, including Niger. The visit [footnote 2] was detected by intelligence, and some details were subsequently confirmed by Iraq. [page 122]

Here's footnote 2 on the same page:

2 This visit was separate from the Iraqi-Nigerien discussions, in the margins of the mid-1999 Organisation of African Unity meeting in Algiers, attested to by Ambassador Wilson in his book “The Politics of Truth” (Carroll & Graf, NY 2004, p28).

Bottom line: The otherwise egregious Butler report not only accurately reflected this particular claim of Wilson's, it also acknowledged clearly that the Iraqi-Nigerien discussion in Algiers in mid-1999 - the very interaction that Wilson described as having occurred between Mayaki and an Iraqi delegation - had nothing to do with Iraq seeking uranium from Africa. Also, unlike the pathetic SSCI report, the Butler report made it clear that the Feb 1999 Wissam Al-Zahawi visit (introduced into the Niger forgeries with a false allegation regarding uranium) was entirely different from the post-June 1999 Niger-Iraq meeting. (Incidentally, multiple investigations have concluded that the Wissam Al-Zahawie trip had nothing to do with uranium.)


6. How and when did the incorrect claim about Wilson's statement originate in U.S. IC reporting?

Given that the March 2002 CIA DO report on Wilson's trip never claimed that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger in mid-1999, but only that the then-Nigerien PM met an Iraqi delegation sometime after mid-1999, the question is when and how Wilson's claim got distorted? This is important to ascertain for a couple of reasons.

First, there are possible implications surrounding any "secret" Iraqi trip to Niger that was otherwise unknown. The Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers in mid-1999 was never considered suspicious, as the Butler report pointed out. The Wissam Al-Zahawie trip to Niger in Feb 1999 had always been known to Western intelligence agencies (since 1999) and was never really considered suspicious until Al-Zahawie's name got inserted in the context of uranium into the forged Niger documents. Hence, the notion that there was a separate and secret mid-1999 trip by Iraq to Niger could be easily misused to falsely claim that Iraq was secretly seeking uranium.

Second, those indulging in this distortion of Wilson's claim were able to sow confusion by swapping Wilson's claim about a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers with a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Niger. By taking "mid" out of "mid 1999", it became possible to make Wilson's claim sound a lot like the claim from SISMI (originating from the forged Niger documents) that fraudulently distorted the objective of Wissam Al-Zahawie's visit to Niger in (early) 1999.

It is worth recalling, as I showed in Part 4 of this series, that the first known document subsequent to the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip in which a U.S. intelligence agency dug up and cited Wilson's trip was the communication from WINPAC to the IAEA in Feb 2003. So, let's trace the mentions of Wilson's trip report starting with the WINPAC communication to the IAEA.

6.1 U.S. IC communication to the IAEA accompanying the copies of some of the Niger forgeries

According to the April 3, 2003 likely WINPAC memo (labeled DX64, see page 9) that was forwarded to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in early June 2003:

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].

I explained in Part 2 of this series 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). The Phase I SSCI report explicitly identified the two streams of reporting as being:

... the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger... [page 68]

Bottom line: Neither the April 2003 memo or the Phase I SSCI report mention whether the communication to the IAEA alleged that the Iraqi-Nigerien meeting occurred in Niger (or Algiers).

6.2 March 8, 2003 DIA memo

As I discussed in Part 4, this memo was the first known DIA memo to falsely claim that Wilson's trip supported the Bush administration's uranium from Africa allegation. However, the short extract from this memo that was included in the SSCI report does not indicate whether the memo alleged that the Iraqi delegation traveled to Niger. The SSCI Report says (pages 69-70):

On March 8, 2003, the DIA provided an info memo (TS-99-177-03) to the Secretary of Defense in response to a March 8, 2003 Washington Post article, "Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake." The memo said, "we believe the IAEA is dismissing attempted Iraqi yellowcake purchases, largely based upon a single set of unverified documents concerning a contract between Niger and Iraq for the supply of 'pure uranium.' The [memo added that the] USG ha[d] not shared other [information] with the IAEA that suggested a Nigerien uranium deal with Iraq." The other intelligence referenced in the memo is the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip, which described the Nigerien Prime Minister's belief that an Iraqi delegation was interested in uranium, the Navy report from November 2002 which said uranium destined for Iraq was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin, and a fax from late 2001 found in the possession of a Somali businessman which described arrangements for shipping unidentified commodities in an amount that appeared similar to the amount in the Iraq Niger yellowcake deal. The fax, however, did not mention uranium, Iraq, or Niger.

Bottom line: The specific wording in the paragraph above only states that Mayaki thought an Iraqi delegation was interested in uranium - it does not state that this delegation allegedly traveled to Niger. This, at face value, is consistent with the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip. However, since we don't have the entire DIA memo we can't be sure if the memo mentioned anything about a trip to Niger.

6.3 March 11, 2003 WINPAC SPWR

The WINPAC March 11, 2003 SPWR says:

Washington since last fall also has provided the IAEA with detailed information on the reported Iraqi-Nigerien agreement based on sensitive reporting. Sensitive reporting indicates a delegation of Iraqis around 1999 visited Niger and suggests they were seeking access to uranium yellowcake. The IAEA says Baghdad admits one of its officials in February 1999 visited Niger and several other African countries, but the IAEA has not shared further details with the US. [DELETED]

Bottom line: This memo is a textbook example for how one could be easily fooled - as I noted at the start of this section (6). This memo was NOT talking about the Wilson trip report but rather, about the claim originating from the SISMI reporting based on the forged Niger documents - namely, the false allegation that then-Iraqi ambassador Wissam Al-Zahawi's trip to Niger in Feb 1999 was to seek uranium. There appears to be no mention in this memo that the IAEA was told about the results of Wilson's trip and no mention of any allegation of a mid-1999 Iraqi delegation visiting Niger.

6.4 April 3, 2003 likely WINPAC memo

According to the April 3, 2003 likely WINPAC memo addressed to Congress (labeled DX64, see page 4) that was forwarded to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in early June 2003:

6. [...] While also asserting there had been no transfers of yellowcake to rogue states, one subsource - a former senior Nigerien official we are confident would have known of uranium sales--also said that he believed Iraq was interested in discussing yellowcake purchases when it sent a delegation to Niamey in mid-1999.

Bottom line: This April 2003 memo used the false allegation that Wilson claimed that the mid-1999 Iraqi-Nigerien meeting occurred in Niger.

6.5 April 5, 2003 NIC SOCM

Per the Phase I SSCI report:

On April 5, 2003, the NIC issued a Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM), (Niger: No Recent Uranium Sales to Iraq, NIC SOCM 2001 12.) The SOCM said, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The IC agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication. We judge that other reports from 2002 - one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey - do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale." The SOCM added, "the current government of Niger [DELETED] and probably would report such an approach by the Iraqis, especially because a sale would violate UN resolution 687." [page 71]

Bottom line: Unfortunately, we are faced with limited and vague wording here. Was this memo talking about the Al-Zahawi trip of Feb 1999 or about the alleged (non-existent) Iraqi meeting with Mayaki in Niger in mid-1999? Either way, this memo made it clear that there was no evidence that any such meetings had anything to do with Iraq seeking uranium.

6.6 June 12, 2003 DIA memo

Unlike the March 8, 2003 DIA memo, the June 12, 2003 memo completely dropped any reference to Wilson's trip as having supported the uranium claim:

On June 12, 2003, the DIA sent an information memorandum to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in response to questions about Iraq's nuclear program. The memo said, "while the Intelligence Committee agrees that documents the IAEA reviewed were likely 'fake,' other unconfirmed reporting suggested that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium and yellowcake from African nations after 1998. " The other reporting mentioned was the Navy report from November 2002, which said uranium destined for Iraq was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. [page 71]

Bottom line: This DIA memo had no reference to Wilson's trip, in contrast to the March 8, 2003 DIA memo.

In summary, a review of these memos unfortunately does not allow us to clearly figure out how and when the story of an Iraqi delegation meeting Mayaki first became the fictitious story of an Iraqi delegation meeting Mayaki in Niger. What we can say is that the Algiers-Niger switch in U.S. IC documents occurred no later than April 3, 2003 and very likely prior to that. A more detailed investigation into this matter would be desirable.


7. Conclusions

When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson returned from Niger in early 2002, he narrated an incident conveyed to him by one of his sources, the former Nigerien PM Ibrahim Mayaki. Wilson told the CIA that Mayaki met an Iraqi delegation at the margins of an Organization for African Unity (OAU) meeting in Algiers in mid-1999. In this post, I showed that the CIA DO report on Wilson's trip did not state the location of this meeting. Yet, the CIA DO reports officer and some WINPAC and DIA analysts later claimed to the SSCI that the meeting occurred in Niger, contradicting Wilson's claim. Surprisingly, the British Butler report accurately reported what Wilson said, even as the Phase I SSCI report that was released around the same time parroted the incorrect claims of the CIA DO reports officer and the WINPAC/DIA analysts without correcting their claims. A review of additional U.S. IC documents suggests that the Algiers-Niger switch in U.S. IC documents occurred no later than April 3, 2003 and very likely prior to that. A more detailed investigation into this matter would be desirable.

The significance of the Algiers-Niger switch - which constituted another piece of deceptive, revisionist history about Joseph Wilson's report - is twofold. First, there are possible implications surrounding any "secret" Iraqi trip to Niger that was otherwise unknown. The Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers in mid-1999 - narrated by Wilson - was never considered suspicious, as the Butler report pointed out. The Wissam Al-Zahawie trip to Niger in Feb 1999 had always been known to Western intelligence agencies (since 1999) and was never really considered suspicious until Al-Zahawie's name got inserted in the context of uranium into the forged Niger documents. Hence, the notion that there was a separate and secret mid-1999 trip by Iraq to Niger could be easily misused to claim that Iraq was secretly seeking uranium. Second, those indulging in this distortion of Wilson's claim were able to confuse people by swapping Wilson's claim about a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers with a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Niger. By taking "mid" out of "mid 1999", it became possible to make Wilson's claim sound a lot like the claim from SISMI (originating from the forged Niger documents) that fraudulently distorted the objective of Wissam Al-Zahawie's visit to Niger in (early) 1999. The net result is that the distorted narrative about Wilson's trip could be misused by frauds in the Bush White House to further cement their allegation about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger. In a follow-up post I will show examples of how this distortion was misused.

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