Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Understanding
PlameGate Fall Out

The WaPo has a lengthy and very riveting narrative-style summary--A Leak, Then a Deluge--that brings in all the threads from the PlameGate affair, from when Libby and Cheney first learned of Plame/Wilson's name to Libby's dealings with the reporters in question to the genesis of the forged Niger yellowcake documents (which plays a large part in this whole scandal). It's a great read, period, but it's especially good if you're just now coming into all the nuances of PlameGate. In particular, here's the section on the Niger docs:

The chain of events that led to Friday's indictment can be traced as far back as 1991, when an unremarkable burglary took place at the embassy of Niger in Rome. All that turned up missing was a quantity of official letterhead with "Republique du Niger" at its top.

More than 10 years later, according to a retired high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, a businessman named Rocco Martino approached the CIA station chief in Rome. An occasional informant for U.S., British, French and Italian intelligence services, Martino brought documents on Niger government letterhead describing secret plans for the sale of uranium to Iraq.

The station chief "saw they were fakes and threw [Martino] out," the former CIA official said. But Italy shared a similar report with the Americans in October 2001, he said, and the CIA gave it circulation because it did not know the Italians relied on the same source.

On Feb. 12, 2002, Cheney received an expanded version of the unconfirmed Italian report. It said Iraq's then-ambassador to the Vatican had led a mission to Niger in 1999 and sealed a deal for the purchase of 500 tons of uranium in July 2000. Cheney asked for more information.

The same day, Plame wrote to her superior in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division that "my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." Wilson -- who had undertaken a similar mission three years before -- soon departed for Niamey, the Niger capital. He said he found no support for the uranium report and said so when he returned.

Martino continued to peddle his documents, with an asking price of more than 10,000 euros -- this time to Panorama, an Italian magazine owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Panorama editor Carlo Rossella said his staff concluded the letters were bogus but in the interim sent copies to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in October 2002. "I believed the Americans were the best source for verifying authenticity," he said. When the documents reached the State Department, according to a commission that investigated prewar intelligence this year, analysts there said they had "serious doubts about the authenticity" of the "transparently forged" documents.

By summer 2002, the White House Iraq Group assigned Communications Director James R. Wilkinson to prepare a white paper for public release, describing the "grave and gathering danger" of Iraq's allegedly "reconstituted" nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson gave prominent place to the claim that Iraq "sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa." That claim, along with repeated use of the "mushroom cloud" image by top officials beginning in September, became the emotional heart of the case against Iraq.

President Bush invoked the mushroom cloud in an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati. References to African uranium remained in his speech until its fifth draft, but a last-minute intervention by Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet excised them.

Tenet's success was short-lived. The uranium returned repeatedly to Bush administration rhetoric in December and January. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice cited the report in a Jan. 23 newspaper column, and three days later, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for a nuclear weapon?"


0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home