Sunday, July 06, 2003

Crisis in Britain, Crisis in America 

While the Brits argue over who sexed the dossier, if anyone, the evidence continues to mount over the claim that intelligence used to justify this war was either exaggerated or falsified.

In the New York Times today, in an op-ed piece, a career foreign service officer and ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson, reveals that he is the unnamed envoy who went to Niger to try to determine if Niger's link to the Iraqi nuclear program actually existed:

It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

Wilson's revelations concerning this supposed Iraq/Niger connection could not be more damning to the credability of the Bush push to war:

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

What's more, Wilson states there should be at least four documents detailing his verbal reports to the CIA and State Department:

Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

His conclusions were not or should not have been a secret to the members of the Bush administration and to Bush himself. Wilson points out the allegations concerning an African country and Iraq's nuclear program resurfaced in a British intelligence dossier in September, 2002:

I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

Wison said he reminded the State Department of his trip to Niger, and conclusions, but was told that the president, in his speech in January, was referring to "other African nations". Wilson, at that time, remained trusting of the administration's intentions:

I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.

Wilson expresses concern as to why his conclusions concerning Niger and Iraq were apparently discarded, and the original information that Wilson was supposed to have personally investigated and proven false, were used as justification for this war:

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It's worth remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.") At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president's behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.

The question, my dear Brits, ought not to be "was the dossier sexed up", but rather, how many players, in this tragic and faltering policy for war in Iraq, participated in the "sexing up of the dossier", in order to lead Americans and Brits into a quagmire of a mess for which we see no end in sight.

Did Alastair Campbell participate in the manipulation of intelligence in order to convince the Brits of the need for war? If he did not, then he was mislead, and the question ought to be, who did the misleading?

Tony Blair with his attack dogs, of which Alastair Campbell is one of them, has a venerated institution of journalism, the BBC, reeling back on its heels. In a letter to the BBC on June 26, Campbell asks:

Was the source, as Gilligan has said, a "senior official involved in drawing up the dossier", or is he, as you said today, a source "in the intelligence services"? I'm sure you at least understand the significance of the difference to which I am alluding.

One thing needs to be said. The checks and balances in place to filter out false intelligence, disproved intelligence, unreliable intelligence, failed in high levels of the British and American governments. Where and how they failed is beginning to come to light, via courageous, honest people like Joseph Wilson, who are concerned about the state of our republics, as they should be.

On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, there are many alluding to the players and the causes of this intelligence failure. No amount of posturing by Alastair Campbell or Tony Blair, no amount of huffing and puffing and I'm going to blow your house down bravado, will change the conclusions that are beginning to surface.

We were misled.

I call on the BBC to continue its investigations into these questions. I call on the American media to investigate these questions. There is no reason for any member of the media to be on the defensive in these times. Throw it back at them. If Alastair Campbell didn't sex up the dossier, who did? And how is it that Mr. Campbell did not know of Joseph Wilson's report on the falsity of the Niger/Iraq connection. These are the questions that ought to be asked, and it will send Blair and Bush and their attack dogs reeling back on their heels.

Did Vice-President Cheney know the Niger/Iraq connection had been proven false by the envoy sent to check out the assertions? How could he not know?. And if he knew, how could the President of the United States not know?