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Monday, April 24, 2006
 
The Big Story on 60 Minutes Last Night

I know, I know, 60 Minutes is still on the air? Apparently so, although it's news to me. But last night they had a major story on... Niger.

Aw, jeez, here we go again with the boys who cried wolf. Let's start with Brainiac 5 himself, Josh Marshall.

First, Drumheller says that most folks in the intelligence community didn't think there was anything to the Niger-uranium story. We knew that in general terms; but we hadn't heard it yet from someone so closely involved in the case itself. Remember, the CIA Station Chief in Rome, the guy who first saw the documents when they were dropped off at the US Embassy in October 2002, worked for Drumheller.

Okay, let's go to the Drumheller interview:

The road to war in Iraq took some strange turns — none stranger than a detour to the West African country of Niger. In late 2001, a month after 9/11, the United States got a report from the Italian intelligence service that Saddam Hussein had bought 500 tons of so-called yellowcake uranium in order to build a nuclear bomb.

Stop the tape! Had bought 500 tons, or was trying to buy some uranium? Now of course, the forged documents were widely discredited--after Bush's speech. But let's go back to the now-famous 16 words from the 2003 State of the Union message:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Sought, not bought. So why is Drumheller spending so much time talking about the 500 tons that the phony invoice purported to represent? Bush did not use that as information supporting the war.

Back to Drumheller:

However, Vice President Dick Cheney thought the story was worth investigating, and asked the CIA not to discount the story without first taking a closer look. So, in February 2002, the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.

"If Saddam Hussein had acquired 500 tons of yellowcake uranium in violation of U.N. sanctions, that would be pretty serious, wouldn’t it?" Bradley asked Wilson.

"Absolutely. Certainly. And the fact that there was an allegation out there that he was even attempting to purchase 500 tons of uranium was very serious, because it essentially meant that they were restarting their nuclear programs," Wilson replied.

Wilson spent eight days in Niger looking for signs of a secret deal to send yellowcake to Iraq. He spoke to government officials who would have known about such a transaction. No one did. There had been a meeting between Iraqis and Nigerians in 1999, but Wilson was told uranium had never been discussed. He also found no evidence that Iraq had even been interested in buying uranium.


Sigh. Once again the lie is repeated. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported the following:

The reports officer... said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerien officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999 and that the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting.


So now how does 60 Minutes manage to conclude that there was no evidence? By saying it. This is one of those myths, like the supposedly discredited Swift Boat Vets, that will not die.

By the way, here's a very interesting article by Seymour Hirsh speculating that perhaps the CIA had intentionally not caught the obvious forgery of the supposed invoice for uranium, in an effort to sting the administration!

It took Baute’s team only a few hours to determine that the documents were fake. The agency had been given about a half-dozen letters and other communications between officials in Niger and Iraq, many of them written on letterheads of the Niger government. The problems were glaring. One letter, dated October 10, 2000, was signed with the name of Allele Habibou, a Niger Minister of Foreign Affairs and Coöperation, who had been out of office since 1989. Another letter, allegedly from Tandja Mamadou, the President of Niger, had a signature that had obviously been faked and a text with inaccuracies so egregious, the senior I.A.E.A. official said, that “they could be spotted by someone using Google on the Internet.”

“Somebody deliberately let something false get in there,” the former high-level intelligence official added. “It could not have gotten into the system without the agency being involved. Therefore it was an internal intention. Someone set someone up.”

Yes, remember when everybody brings up the CIA in this that somebody needs to ask why, if the information was considered so bad, did the agency brief the president on it? There are surely dozens of leads that don't pan out every day; presumably they are not all presented to the Oval Office?

So it's the boys who cried wolf, yet again.

John Hawkins takes the cluebat to Drumheller as well.
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