Monday, July 26, 2004

Who's Lying? 

How many times in the last week have you heard some right-wing gasbag peddling the Republican talking point that Joe Wilson "lied" about Saddam's efforts to procure yellowcake from Niger, or that his report has been "discredited"? (If it's fewer than a dozen, you have our envy.) Unfortunately, a couple of inconvenient facts seem to have vanished from the general discussion; feel free to bring them up, should the occasion arise . . . .

1) The CIA agreed with Joseph Wilson, and it says so right here in the Senate Intelligence Report:
[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.
This quote (from p. 91 of the report) comes from an internal CIA memorandum that has not yet been made public. Kevin Drum of Political Animal wondered a couple of days ago whether Wilson might have learned of the memo's conclusion before deciding to go public with his own findings:
After taking into account all the bits and pieces of data floating around, the CIA's final judgment was that there was no good evidence that Iraq had sought uranium "from abroad" — not from Niger and more generally not from Africa either. And since Wilson's wife worked in the WMD section of the CIA, it's possible that she saw a draft of this memo in May and mentioned its conclusion to Wilson — or perhaps some other inside source did. This in turn might have convinced him that it was safe to flatly tell Kristof that the uranium story was bogus.
(Wilson has since e-mailed Drum and told him that the answer was no: he was unaware of the CIA memo until he read about it at Political Animal.)

2) The Butler Report claimed that British intelligence had "separate intelligence" suggesting that Saddam sought yellowcake elsewhere in Africa, and that claim is now being cited as vindication of the notorious "sixteen words" that the White House later conceded should not have been in Bush's 2003 SOTU address. However, the writers of the Butler Report presented no new evidence whatsoever; they simply took Downing Street's word that it existed:
A leading nuclear expert has pointed out a technical error in the Butler report on WMD intelligence in Iraq, and criticised the committee's finding that intelligence on Saddam Hussein seeking uranium from Africa was "credible".

The Butler report demolished the most controversial allegation in the Government's September 2002 WMD dossier - that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in 45 minutes - but observers were surprised that the uranium claim passed scrutiny.

American investigators have dismissed the suggestion that Iraq was seeking uranium from the west African state of Niger in a quest for nuclear weapons, because it was based on forged documents. It was also inherently implausible, they added, since Iraq had 550 tons of "yellowcake" - uranium which has undergone the first stage of processing. But the Butler committee accepted the Government's contention that it had separate intelligence, which has never been disclosed, to support the claim.

Norman Dombey, retired professor of theoretical physics at Sussex University, said yesterday that the Butler report wrongly described Iraq's stocks of uranium as unprocessed. But Professor Dombey, credited with pointing out numerous flaws in the story of an Iraqi defector whose nuclear claims were widely circulated in the US during the 1990s, was more critical of the committee's intelligence findings on the Niger issue. "The Butler report says the claim was credible because an Iraqi diplomat visited Niger in 1999, and almost three-quarters of Niger's exports were uranium. But this is irrelevant, since France controls Niger's uranium mines," he said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog agency has since demanded to see Great Britain's "separate intelligence," and they're still waiting.

(Thanks to Suburban Guerrilla for the link; see also Dennis Hans's "Those 16 Words Still Smell" at CounterPunch.)

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