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January 18, 2006
The Dishonesty Of The New York Times

The New York Times puts out another article attacking the inclusion of the notorious "sixteen words" in the 2003 State of the Union address that the Bush administration long ago conceded should not have been in the speech. These 16 words started the CIA on its mission to discredit George Bush by sending its partisan, spook spouse and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger for a couple of drinks with the country's Prime Minister. On his return and oddly unencumbered by the normal non-disclosure agreements that the CIA requires for other contractors, he leaked his impressions through Nicholas Kristof at the Times and Walter Pincus at the Washington Post before writing an op-ed under his own name, declaring that Bush had lied about uranium sales to Iraq.

Once again, Eric Lichtblau and the NYT rehash this issue, and once again, they handle it dishonestly:

A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.

Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send "25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers" filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.

The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Lichtblau even gets a quote from Joe Wilson himself at the end of the article, but Lichtblau's framing highlights the dishonesty at the heart of this article and Wilson's three-year passion for attacking the Bush administration:

Mr. Wilson said in an interview that he did not remember ever seeing the memo but that its analysis should raise further questions about why the White House remained convinced for so long that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.

"All the people understood that there was documentary evidence" suggesting that the intelligence about the sale was faulty, he said.

Once again, the Times conflates two different questions and in doing so misrepresents the intelligence that both the British and Wilson himself found. The first question, which prompted this release of material, is whether the Nigeriens were likely to sell and transport uranium to Iraq. The second question is whether Saddam Hussein was still making the attempt to buy uranium at all, from Niger as well as anywhere else. All of Iraq's uranium had been sealed by the UNSCOM team and was out of Saddam's reach, at least while UNSCOM remained in Iraq. Had Saddam sought uranium from any other source, it would prove that Saddam intended to rebuild his WMD nuclear program.

It really shouldn't be that difficult to figure out that the two questions are not mutually exclusive, and that they mean two very different things. Joe Wilson found that out himself and reported it to the CIA, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence determined in 2004:

[Wilson's] intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,(REDACTED) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."

As has been discussed many times in the past, the Nigeriens only export four commodities: livestock, cowpeas, onions, and uranium -- and only one of those would require secret negotiations with Saddam's Iraq. Mayaki told Wilson that he was sure that Saddam was trying to procure another source for uranium and declined to meet with the Iraqi delegation.

That showed the CIA assessment to be accurate -- that an actual sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq would be unlikely to proceed. However, it also showed that Saddam Hussein, as late as 1999, continued in his efforts to procure uranium to replace that which UNSCOM had confiscated. Why would Saddam need uranium? The only reason was to restart his moribund nuclear-weapons program.

Reread the opening paragraphs from Lichtblau again. He deliberately varies from one question to the other as if the two have an identical meaning. It's the same trick employed in Wilson's original op-ed; both start off by talking about the fact that no sale had been completed -- a true statement -- and then substitute that for no attempt to purchase uranium had been made, a complete falsehood that Wilson's own report proves.

Bush, in fact, turned out to be correct in his "sixteen words," a fact not lost on British intelligence, who have all along insisted that Saddam had tried to buy uranium, and not just from Niger. The SSCI report makes this dodge very transparent, but the Paper of Record never bothers to research its findings whenever reporting on this subject.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 18, 2006 6:06 AM

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