Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Cutting Through The Yellow Tape

Amidst the yellow haze of the journalistic feeding frenzy over the veracity of Joseph Wilson's claims regarding his trip to Niger, the truthfulness of President Bush's now infamous January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address in which he uttered the controversial sixteen words about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Niger, and the release of two governmental findings (the British Butler Report and the American Senate Intelligence Committee Report) that shed some light on the two issues, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.

The words in question: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The two most important questions that remain concerning this scandal are first, did Iraq in fact try to acquire yellow cake uranium from Niger (and its related sidebar: if so were they successful), and were the claims made in the President's speech justified by the then existing intelligence.

On the first point, there are slightly conflicting conclusions depending on what source you consider. The Butler Report, prepared at the behest of the British government, came to the conclusion that the claim that Iraq had at one point made attempts to buy uranium were "well founded" and that Bush was justified to rely on them, although the Butler Report did not explain in detail how or why it came to the conclusion that the intelligence was sound (even the Butler Report acknowledges that Iraq did not indeed acquire the uranium).

As detailed in an article in a USA Today article , the findings of the Butler Report contrast sharply with those of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report which "accepted the CIA's ultimate assessment - not reached until after the war - that there was little if any credible evidence available to U.S. intelligence to support the charge that Iraq sought, let alone bought, uranium from Niger."

On the second point, whether Bush was justified in including these claims in his State of the Union Address, as discussed in a Washington Post Op-Ed piece, the Senate Report stated that the "bipartisan Senate investigation said the conclusion was a reasonable one at least until October 2002." However, President Bush's speech was delivered in January 28, 2003, almost three months after the CIA had deemed the evidence to be unreliable, as the Senate Committee found. So the question remains, was Bush right in relying on a claim made by British intelligence that his own CIA claimed was unreasonable, unfounded and dubious? Especially in light of the fact that the intelligence community tried to prevent these claims from appearing in the speech because of their weakness.

Returning to the first question, whether Iraq indeed tried to acquire uranium from Niger, the USA Today article lays out some of the salient facts:

• Why would Iraq try to buy uranium from Niger when it already had uranium of its own? Iraq had 550 tons of partially processed uranium ore, or yellowcake, that it had mined and processed itself or imported in the 1980s from Niger. But the material was subject to United Nations inspections, and Iraq's uranium mining and processing facilities had been destroyed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. British intelligence believed Iraq wanted a secret source of uranium to evade U.N. inspections. U.S. intelligence said Iraq was unlikely to risk exposure in an international uranium deal and would more likely divert its own stockpile because the U.N. inspections occurred only once a year.

• Has the White House changed its position on Bush's January 2003 charge? The White House has not withdrawn or amended its statement last July that the intelligence behind the charge "did not rise to the level of inclusion in a presidential speech."It is also known that there were some documents that related to a purported transaction of uranium between Iraq and Niger that were forged and that these forgeries were initially relied on as evidence by some foreign intelligence agencies, including the British.

It is also known that there were some documents that related to a purported transaction of uranium between Iraq and Niger that were forged and that these forgeries were initially relied on as evidence by some foreign intelligence agencies, including the British.  

Also, on the USA Today article has this on Joseph Wilson:

• What was Wilson's role? Wilson had been an ambassador to Gabon and was posted to Niger earlier in his career. In 1999, he had gone to Niger to gather information about rumors of uranium sales to Iraq. The CIA sent Wilson back to Niger in February 2002 to check on unconfirmed reports about an Iraqi contract to buy uranium. Wilson reported that he found no evidence of a contract and that Niger's uranium was under French control and could not be diverted to Iraq.

He said Niger's former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, had told him that in 1999 he had been approached by a businessman who urged him to meet with an Iraqi delegation. Mayaki said he assumed the meeting would be about uranium, but uranium never came up.

• What did the Senate Intelligence Committee report say about Wilson, and how does he respond? The committee reported that CIA analysts believe Mayaki's comments about the meeting, while inconclusive, tended to support allegations that Iraq was at least trying to buy uranium. Wilson says the Mayaki information was thin and notes that the CIA did not deem it important enough to report to the White House.

The committee reported that Wilson conceded he may have "misspoken" when he told a reporter last year that documents purporting to confirm an Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries when, in fact, he had no access to those documents and could not have known they were forgeries. Wilson says he never claimed to have known about the forged documents.

The committee also questioned Wilson's repeated denials that his wife had "anything to do" with his selection by the CIA to go to Niger. It quoted from a memo by Plame that lays out Wilson's qualifications for the assignment. Wilson and the CIA confirm that the agency, not Plame, selected him for the mission. He says the memo merely laid out his qualifications after he was picked.

In the spirit of fairness, Joseph Wilson does rebut some of the contentions in the Senate Report here.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?