Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Niger forgeries

At long last, a series of reports are coming out in the press (the Italian press, but still, the press) exploring the origins of the forged documents which lead to Joe Wilson being dispatched to Niger, and to the President stating that Iraq had attempted to buy yellowcake in Africa.

The more I try to follow the intrigue behind this, the more confused I get. I turn to my sources, other bloggers, and get even more confused.

Here's the often brilliant, usually insightful, and always comprehensible Billmon explaining his conclusions about why All Roads Lead to Rome:
We seem to end up with a very sophisticated, very successful disinformation campaign involving Sismi [Italian intelligence], MI6, elements of the U.S. intelligence community (the DIA in particular) as well as the Blair government and the cabal. But side-by-side with that, we’ve also got a totally ham-handed black op that might have blown the whole scam sky high, if anyone had paid more than cursory attention to it.

To my mind, at least, this lends at least some credence to Sy Hersh’s theory that the forgeries were designed to hurt, not help, the conspiracy. Which would mean that someone in the loop – like Martino, Nucero or “La Signora” (or all three) – was working for the opposition, not the cabal. But after my last adventure in reading the Niger tea leaves, I’m not going to venture an opinion.

But of course, I’ve been wrong -- very wrong -- about this story before.
Read the rest of his story, it'll give you some sense of why this is so complex. Here's what I understand the story to be.

Basically, someone – possibly Italian intelligence acting with implicit support or explicit instructions from American intelligence – produced cheap forgeries of documents which would suggest that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger. On inspection, these documents were absurd, but no one really paid very close attention to them.

The documents were spread around to different agencies, first SISMI, which passed the text and then the documents themselves on to the Brits and Americans. Before our intelligence agencies got the documents, they were being fed intelligence through other nations about how Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa, especially Niger. Whether these same documents inspired that chatter or whether it was the forgers is not entirely clear to me. Josh Marshall is explaining it, and he's using small words and everything, but I'm just feeling particularly dense. It's unfortunate, because that's the part where all the events at issue happened.

In any event, it was this chatter which prompted Vice-President Cheney to ask his CIA briefer for more information, a request which bubbled through the CIA, resulting in Joe Wilson being asked (not by his wife) to visit Niger, a country he had served in before.

His story is relatively well documented. Based on his discussions with the relevant officials and examination of the situation in Niger, Wilson concluded that Saddam had not bought or sought uranium from Niger, and said so. The internal criticism of this pillar of the rush to war ruffled feathers, and it appears that the pro-invasion cabal started putting together a plan to knock Wilson down pretty fast. Then there was the invasion, and then Wilson wrote an op-ed explaining what he didn't find in Africa. Then, a few weeks later, Bob Novak told the world that a couple Administration sources told him that Wilson's wife was an operative with the CIA, a term he usually used to refer to undercover agents. She was in fact an undercover agent, her status as a CIA agent was classified, and she'd served overseas within the previous 5 years, helping track down the sale and production of WMD. When her identity was revealed, her contacts were put in danger, and any streams of intelligence she was still developing went cold.

Then no one found any WMD in Iraq, and certainly not an active nuclear program. Then we failed to secure nuclear facilities, and sophisticated explosives got loose and into the hands of insurgents. Plus radioactive materials and containers were stolen to help carry water, endangering the safety of local villagers. Because it didn't occur to anyone that, post-invasion, we'd need someone to secure those sites.

And there we are, sans WMD, sans allies, sans exit strategy, with 2,000 dead American soldiers, tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and no end in sight.