Saturday, May 5

What did Rice Know (about the Niger Forgeries) and when did she know it?

That's what Henry Waxman wants to know. He's already subpoened her, while she remains "dis-inclined" to honor that subpeona claiming that it is a "seperation of powers" issue - but since new revelations have surfaced that a state department analyst clearly identified the Niger documents as "probably a hoax" and "clearly a forgery" three months before the President's 2003 State of the Union address Rice and the State Dept have apparently blocked his access to Congressional Investigators - that view seems increasingly spurious.

It's one thing to dubiously claim that Executive Priviledge extends not simply to communications directly with the President, as has been the historical precedent, and that the now extend all the way to communications between the CIA and NSC, it's quite another to willinging obstruct a lawful Congressional Investigation by refusing to grant them access to witnesses.

It seems the Diva of Dissembling is at it yet again.

ere are the relevant facts from David Corn at Slate:

In mid-October 2002, a nuclear analyst named Simon Dodge in the State Department's intelligence division was forwarded copies of documents purporting to outline a recent sale of 500 tons of yellowcake uranium—which can be enriched for use in nuclear weapons—from the impoverished African nation of Niger to Iraq. As he reviewed the papers—which had been handed to the U.S. Embassy in Italy by an Italian journalist who had received them from a not-so-credible paid source—Dodge zeroed in on a bizarre companion document. It described a secret 2002 meeting at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome of representatives of the world's outlaw states—Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Libya (and Pakistan, too). The purpose of this session was to form a clandestine alliance against the West and to concoct a "plan of action" for "Global Support."

Iran and Iraq in a secret pact to create a partnership of rogue states? This was something out of James Bond—or Austin Powers. Dodge considered it "completely implausible," as he later told congressional investigators. Yet this memo bore the same "funky" (as he saw it) embassy of Niger stamp that appeared on the uranium-deal papers. That was, for Dodge, a telltale sign. If the uranium-agreement papers were coming from the same source as the outlandish rogue-state alliance memo (and bearing the same suspect markings), they, too, must be fishy. He concluded that the entire set of papers from Italy was likely fraudulent and e-mailed that assessment to colleagues within the intelligence community. Three months later, he reiterated his concerns in a Jan. 12, 2003, e-mail to other intelligence-community analysts and warned that the uranium-purchase agreement "probably is a hoax."

It's become clear that there were plenty of things "fishy" about those Niger documents. First of all was the fact that Iraq already had 500 tons of Yellowcake which had been purchased in the 80's and were under the control of UN Weapons inspectors. And Besides the "funky stamp" noted by Dodge there were a whole host of other problems as documented by Vanity Fair last year.

The forged documents were full of errors. A letter dated October 10, 2000, was signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Elhadj Habibou—even though he had been out of office for more than a decade. Its September 28 postmark indicated that somehow the letter had been received nearly two weeks before it was sent. In another letter, President Tandja Mamadou's signature appeared to be phony. The accord signed by him referred to the Niger constitution of May 12, 1965, when a new constitution had been enacted in 1999. One of the letters was dated July 30, 1999, but referred to agreements that were not made until a year later. Finally, the agreement called for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters—a spectacularly difficult feat.

In fact long before Dodge - who was apparently the first American official to actually see the documents first hand - the Niger claims had been thoroughly discounted by the intelligence community. According to Vanity Fair's report it had been knocked down at least 19 different times before Bush's State of the Union.

In December 2001, Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviewed Iraq's W.M.D. program for Colin Powell. As for the Niger report, Thielmann said, "A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down."

By late 2002 Joseph Wilson had already been to Niger and back, to follow up on the Niger documents filing a verbal report with CPD at CIA which was also shared with INR at State. What he found was Bupkis. Not only had the Iraqis failed to get Uranium from Niger, the Nigerian government couldn't have given it too them if they wanted to since the mining operations was under the control by the French and overseen by the IAEA. By the time Wilson returned the story had been essentially debunked.

By now the Niger reports had been discredited more than half a dozen times—by the French in 2001, by the C.I.A. in Rome and in Langley, by the State Department's INR, by some analysts in the Pentagon, by the ambassador to Niger, by Wilson, and yet again by State.

Despite the fact that members of the Intelligence Community were highly skeptical of these documents, the White House continued to press the issue - interjecting references to the Niger claims into President Bush's October Cincinatti speach. An intervention was required...

The C.I.A. faxed a memo to Hadley and the speechwriters telling them to delete the sentence on uranium, "because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory."

Even after this fax, the reference remained in the speach - so George Tenet personally picked up the phone and called Hadley.

According to his Senate testimony, he told Hadley that the "president should not be a fact witness on this issue," because the "reporting was weak." The C.I.A. even put it in writing and faxed it to the N.S.C.

The reference was removed from the speach, but the issue just refuse to remain dead, like a cat from a Stephen King novel.

For the next two months, December 2002 and January 2003, references to the uranium deal resurfaced again and again in "fact sheets," talking-point memos, and speeches. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice all declared publicly that Iraq had been caught trying to buy uranium from Niger. On December 19, the claim reappeared on a fact sheet published by the State Department. The bureaucratic battle was unending. In light of the many differing viewpoints, the Pentagon asked the National Intelligence Council, the body that oversees the 15 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, to resolve the matter. According to The Washington Post, in a January 2003 memo the council replied unequivocally that "the Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest." The memo went immediately to Bush and his advisers.

Yet, miraculously, Bush still uttered the infamous 16 words on National Television during his 2003 State of Union, fueling greater support for his eventual decision to began a war with Iraq.

Despite Rice claims last week to George Stephanapolous that this has been "well investigated" IT. HAS. NOT. Neither the Robb-Silberman commission nor the Senate Intelligence committe under Roberts addressed this isssue.

And now, on top of the moutainous pile of evidence that the White House was well and repeatedly informed that the Niger story was bogus - we have Dodge's assesment and the stunning fact that the State Department refuses to let him speak to Waxman's Committee even though he is more than willing to do so. Waxman's letter to Rice.

[A] member of your legislative office informed Committee staff that you were prohibiting Mr. Dodge from meeting with Committee investigators. This official claimed that allowing Mr. Dodge to speak with Committee staff would be "inappropriate" because the Committee voted to issue a subpoena to compel your attendance at a hearing on your knowledge of the fabricated evidence.

I assume that your legislative staff was acting without your authorization in this matter. It would be a matter of great concern - as well as an obvious conflict of interest - if you had directed your staff to impede a congressional investigation into matter that may implicate your conduct as National Security Advisor.

In fact, it would be Obstruction of Justice for anyone at State, particularly Secretary Rice, to interfere with a Congressional investigation, not to mention possible Witness Tampering charges and what was that other one again...?

Oh yeah... Contempt of Congress.

Maybe, just maybe, they're so resistant to this inquiry for a reason, perhaps it's the apparently probability that the Niger Forgeries were originated by the U.S. according to a Reagan era CIA Official.

The Italian intelligence service, the military intelligence service, was acquiring information that was really being hand-fed to them by very dubious sources. The Niger documents, for example, which apparently were produced in the United States, yet were funneled through the Italians.

This allegation has also been repeated and supported by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern as he appeared on Tucker Carlson this week.

Tucker:"That memo came from abroad."

McGovern:"Some of it came from abroad, but you know if you trace the memo back and see the characters who are involved, it's my appreciation that the memo leads right back to the doorstep of the Vice President of the United States."

Tucker: "So the Vice President you believe forged, now if the Vice President was behind that forgery, don't you think he would have done a better job?"

McGovern: "I don't think he and Lynn, you know, sat down and did it. I think they farmed it out to a cottage industry of former intelligence agents that did a rather amateurish job."

McGovern is clearly referring to Michael Ledeen, a former member of Reagan's NSC - who had more than few fingers in the Iran-Contra cookie jar - and has long been rumored to have have used his long-standing links to SISMI and the then incoming Bush Administration to act as a rogue independent intelligence operative in 1999 when the forgeries were created. Last year's Vanity Fair article stopped short of claiming it had proof that Ledeen and/or his associates were responsible for the forgery, but McGovern's claim indicates that he may have found information that is more damaging.

Or not, we'll see.

This is all the more reason, of course, for Rice to damn the torpedos and continue play "beat the clock" with the Waxman investigation forcing them into court to gain each and every single peice of information if she can - for now that is.

As I've stated before, they can always simply Impeach Her Arrogant Ass.


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