July 07, 2003

Ex-Envoy: Nuclear Report Ignored

"All the _resident's men" may be able to distract the
propapunditgandists and the network nighly news shows
with their photo ops in Africa, BUT not the
LNS...Three more US GI's die (for what?) in Iraq over
the last 24 hours. Again, why is no one asking these
questions: what is the clearly defined goal? what is
the time-table? what is the exit strategy? and most
importantly, what did you expect? Meanwhile, there is
another name to scrawl on the John O'Neil wall of
heroes: Joseph C. Wilson (hitherto, he was
anonymous)....

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13536-2003Jul5.html

washingtonpost.com
Ex-Envoy: Nuclear Report Ignored
Iraqi Purchases Were Doubted by CIA

By Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 6, 2003; Page A13


Joseph C. Wilson, the retired United States ambassador
whose CIA-directed mission to Niger in early 2002
helped debunk claims that Iraq had tried to obtain
uranium there for nuclear weapons, has said for the
first time publicly that U.S. and British officials
ignored his findings and exaggerated the public case
for invading Iraq.

Wilson, whose 23-year career included senior positions
in Africa and Iraq, where he was acting ambassador in
1991, said the false allegations that Iraq was trying
to buy uranium oxide from Niger about three years ago
were used by President Bush and senior administration
officials as a central piece of evidence to support
their assertions that Iraq had reconstituted its
nuclear weapons program.

"It really comes down to the administration
misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a
fundamental justification for going to war," Wilson
said yesterday. "It begs the question, what else are
they lying about?"

The Niger story -- one piece of the administration's
larger argument that Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction posed an imminent threat -- was not
debunked until shortly before the war began, when the
United Nations' chief nuclear inspector told the
Security Council the documents were forgeries. The
White House has acknowledged that some documents were
bogus, but a spokesman has said there was "a larger
body of evidence suggesting Iraq attempted to purchase
uranium in Africa," indicating it may have involved a
country other than Niger.

For the past year, Wilson has spoken out against the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but until he was
interviewed by The Post and wrote an op-ed article
published in today's New York Times, he had never
disclosed his key role in the Niger controversy.

The CIA turned to Wilson in February 2002 because of
his extensive experience with intelligence and his
relationship with senior officials in Niger.

Wilson's account of his eight-day mission to Niger,
including a statement he was told Vice President
Cheney's staff was interested in the truth of the
allegations, has not been contradicted by
administration officials, but they have played down
his importance and denied his accusations.

A senior administration official said yesterday that
Wilson's mission originated within the CIA's
clandestine service after Cheney aides raised
questions during a briefing. "It was not orchestrated
by the vice president," the official said. He added
that it was reported in a routine way, did not mention
Wilson's name and did not say anything about
forgeries.

Wilson has been interviewed recently by the House and
Senate intelligence committees, which are expected to
focus on who in the National Security Council and the
vice president's office had access to a CIA cable,
sent March 9, 2002, that did not name Wilson but said
Niger officials had denied the allegations.

Wilson said he went to Niger skeptical, knowing that
the structure of the uranium industry -- controlled by
a consortium of French, Spanish, German and Japanese
firms -- made it highly unlikely that anyone would
officially deal with Iraq because of U.N. sanctions.
Wilson never saw the disputed documents but talked
with officials whose signatures would have been
required and concluded the allegations were almost
certainly false. Back in Washington, he briefed CIA
officers but did not draft his own report.

In September 2002, the story of Iraq purchasing
uranium in Africa made its way into a published
British dossier on Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction that got wide coverage. Wilson was
perplexed.

""[I]t was unfathomable to me that this information
would not have been shared" with the British, he said.

In late September, CIA Director George J. Tenet and
top aides made two presentations in closed session on
Capitol Hill. They said there was information that
Iraq had attempted to buy uranium but that there was
some doubt the information was credible. But on Dec.
19, 2002, a State Department fact sheet listed
attempts to purchase uranium, specifically from Niger,
as an item omitted from Iraq's supposedly full
disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction program.

Bush, in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 23,
declared that "the British government has learned that
Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities
of uranium from Africa."

After Bush's speech, Wilson said he contacted the
State Department, noted that the Niger story had been
debunked and said, "You might want to make sure the
facts are straight."

In early February, the CIA received a translation of
the Niger documents and in early March, copies of the
documents, which it turned over to the International
Atomic Energy Agency.

After IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei announced they
were bogus, Wilson read a March 8 front-page story in
The Washington Post that quoted an unidentified U.S.
official as saying, "We fell for it."

The quote provided "a wake-up call . . . that somebody
was not being candid about this Niger business," he
said. Interviewed that day on CNN, Wilson said: "I
think it's safe to say that the U.S. government should
have or did know that this report was a fake before
Dr. ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the U.N.
yesterday."

In June, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that top administration
officials were unaware of the faked documents at the
time of the State of the Union. "Maybe someone knew
down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our
circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions
that this might be a forgery."

But Wilson said he considers that "inconceivable."
Based on his experience at the NSC, Wilson does not
believe his report would have been buried. Having been
told the vice president's office was interested, he
said, "If you are senior enough to ask this question,
you are well above the bowels of the bureaucracy. You
are in that circle."

Last week, Wilson said of Hussein: "I'm glad the
tyrant is gone." But he does not believe the war was
ever about eliminating Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction. It was, he said, a political push to
"redraw the map of the Middle East."

While his family prepared for a Fourth of July dinner,
he proudly showed a reporter photos of himself with
Bush's parents. On a den wall was a framed cable to
him in Baghdad, from the first President Bush, dated
Nov. 20, 1990:

"What you are doing day in and day out under the most
trying conditions is truly inspiring," the cable
states. "Keep fighting the good fight. You and your
stalwart colleagues are always in our thoughts and
prayers."

Wilson observed: "I guess he didn't realize that one
of these days I would carry that fight against his
son's administration."

2003 The Washington Post Company

Posted by richard at July 7, 2003 12:18 PM