Let me give the White House a hand.
Condoleezza Rice was asked on "Meet the Press"
on Sunday about a column of mine from May
6 regarding President Bush's reliance on forged
documents to claim that Iraq had sought uranium
in Africa. That was not just a case of hyping
intelligence, but of asserting something that
had already been flatly discredited by an
envoy investigating at the behest of the office
of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Rice acknowledged that the president's information
turned out to be "not credible," but insisted
that the White House hadn't realized this
until after Mr. Bush had cited it in his State
of the Union address.
now an administration official tells The Washington
Post that Mr. Cheney's office first learned
of its role in the episode by reading that
column of mine. Hmm. I have an offer for Mr.
Cheney: I'll tell you everything I know about
your activities, if you'll tell me all you
help out Ms. Rice and Mr. Cheney, let me offer
some more detail about the uranium saga. Piecing
the story together from two people directly
involved and three others who were briefed
on it, the tale begins at the end of 2001,
when third-rate forged documents turned up
in West Africa purporting to show the sale
by Niger to Iraq of tons of "yellowcake" uranium.
Italy's intelligence service obtained the
documents and shared them with British spooks,
who passed them on to Washington. Mr. Cheney's
office got wind of this and asked the C.I.A.
agency chose a former ambassador to Africa
to undertake the mission, and that person
flew to Niamey, Niger, in the last week of
February 2002. This envoy spent one week in
Niger, staying at the Sofitel and discussing
his findings with the U.S. ambassador to Niger,
and then flew back to Washington via Paris.
Immediately upon his return, in early March
2002, this senior envoy briefed the C.I.A.
and State Department and reported that the
documents were bogus, for two main reasons.
First, the documents seemed phony on their
face - for example, the Niger minister of
energy and mines who had signed them had left
that position years earlier. Second, an examination
of Niger's uranium industry showed that an
international consortium controls the yellowcake
closely, so the Niger government does not
have any yellowcake to sell.
Officials now claim that the C.I.A. inexplicably
did not report back to the White House with
this envoy's findings and reasoning, or with
an assessment of its own that the information
was false. I hear something different. My
understanding is that while Director of Central
Intelligence George Tenet may not have told
Mr. Bush that the Niger documents were forged,
lower C.I.A. officials did tell both the vice
president's office and National Security Council
staff members. Moreover, I hear from another
source that the C.I.A.'s operations side and
its counterterrorism center undertook their
own investigations of the documents, poking
around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded
that they were false - a judgment that filtered
to the top of the C.I.A.
Meanwhile, the State Department's intelligence
arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research,
independently came to the exact same conclusion
about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann,
a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said
he was "quite confident" that the conclusion
had been passed up to the top of the State
"It was well known throughout the intelligence
community that it was a forgery," said Melvin
Goodman, a former C.I.A. analyst who is now
at the Center for International Policy.
Mr. Tenet and the intelligence agencies were
under intense pressure to come up with evidence
against Iraq. Ambiguities were lost, and doubters
were discouraged from speaking up.
was a foregone conclusion that every photo
of a trailer truck would be a `mobile bioweapons
lab' and every tanker truck would be `filled
with weaponized anthrax,' " a former military
intelligence officer said. "None of the analysts
in military uniform had the option to debate
the vice president, secretary of defense and
the secretary of state."
I don't believe that the president deliberately
lied to the public in an attempt to scare
Americans into supporting his war. But it
does look as if ideologues in the administration
deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs
- and then deceived the American public as
on Tuesday, June 13, 2003 by the New
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