Tuesday, July 15, 2003

I have been pondering the Niger documents and am having trouble with the story as it has been presented. There were four documents. They have been described as 'crude forgeries' (a summary of all the reports on the forgeries is here). What is wrong with them?:

  • one of the documents purports to be a letter signed by Tandjia Mamadou, the president of Niger, with a childlike signature that is clearly not his;

  • another document was written on paper from a 1980's military government in Niger (the "Supreme Military Council"), bears the date of October 10, 2000, and bears the signature of foreign minister Allele Elhadj Habibou, a man who by then had not been foreign minister of Niger for 14 years; and

  • one letter referred to the Niger constitution of 1965, which had been superseded by a new constitution in 1999.

There are two obvious anomalies with these documents:

  1. the actual forgery is incompetently done, but using paper that would not be available to the average amateur forger; and

  2. there is some kind of weird time warp going on, with the forger appearing to operate on the basis of information that is ten to fifteen years out of date.

How do we explain this? I think the forger used as his starting point copies of genuine documentation involving the government of Niger and the government of Iraq. The only unusual aspect of this is that these documents were from the 1980's. In other words, the forger took copies of documents from fifteen years ago, and cut and pasted them to look like they were documents from a few years ago. So the forger must have been an individual who:

  1. is not a professional intelligence agent, as a professional would have done a much better job and wouldn't have made the serious and obvious errors,

  2. is not from Niger, for someone from Niger wouldn't have made the errors, and

  3. is someone who had access to internal Iraqi government files from the 1980's.

In other words, the forger was almost certainly a functionary in the Iraqi bureaucracy of the 1980's, who took copies of the Niger documents with him when he defected out of Iraq. He is almost certainly one of the Iraqi defectors that Cheney has been using to provide much of the raw material on which the attack on Iraq was justified. All this talk about Italian intelligence, and French intelligence, and intelligence sources from 'another country', and a mysterious diplomat from Niger, are all fog meant to confuse the issue. From what information we have, the information flow is likely as follows:

  1. Cheney and Chalabi decide it would be a good idea if some documentary evidence were to surface tying Saddam into recent attempts to buy nuclear materials.

  2. One of Chalabi's cronies, who worked for Saddam in the 1980's and has since defected with as many incriminating documents as he could carry, uses some of his old Niger documents to cut and past some rough forgeries, without even bothering to get the minor details right as he knows that the recipients of these forgeries aren't going to look at them too critically (Niger was specifically picked as one of Saddam's Ambassador to the Vatican in Rome had recently visited there, and this visit had led to rumors that the purpose of the visit was related to the acquisition of uranium).

  3. The documents end up with Cheney and/or Rumsfeld, who pass them on to their Office of Special Plans, the sausage factory led by Abram Shulsky which was set up to create lies without the interference of the professional intelligence agencies, and from there directly to Ariel Sharon's office, as Sharon plays a special hand's on role in the creation of the lies.

  4. In the sausage factory, the lies get made into part of the whole framework of lies to justify the attack on Iraq.

  5. Either the Americans or the Israelis pass the documents on to the Italians, so that their provenance will seem less obvious.

  6. The Italians pass on summaries (the Italians are now claiming they didn't provide any documents, but haven't mentioned summaries) to the British (so the British didn't actually see the documents until after they were denounced by the International Atomic Energy Agency; there is some question about this in that some reports have it that the documents went to MI6 and then to Cheney) and the British are also led to obtain the same information from another source other than the United States, probably Israel, so that Blair can claim he has multiple sources independent of the United States (the British are trying to claim that the sources were France and Italy, with the French unwilling to supply the information to the Americans, a story which doesn't make sense since the French had to have known that Niger couldn't have supplied the uranium - see below).

  7. The British include the Niger claims in a dossier.

  8. One of Cheney's people, probably specifically Robert G. Joseph, puts the 16 words in the State of the Union address, worded so they can blame the whole thing on Blair's dossier if they need to.

The Americans have said that the source for the documents was neither Israel nor Britain, a statement which is probably true. The forgery was probably by a non-professional forger who created a mess of a forgery, but with careful manipulation of the intelligence trail the Americans managed to get it into Blair's dossier, where it formed the basis of the sixteen words in the State of the Union speech (note that Bush said that the British learned that Saddam had sought uranium in Africa, which implies more than that the British thought this to be true, but that it actually was true). Contrary to what Rice is now saying, the sixteen words were absolutely crucial to the case for the attack on Iraq. Since the whole argument depended on the necessity for war due to the imminent risk of attack to the United States, and the aluminum tubes story had been largely discredited, the Niger uranium was the only real evidence the Bush Administration had to justify the attack. Even worse, perhaps, was the fact that Cheney was using these same nuclear arguments at a time when he knew them to be lies (he gave a speech on August 26, 2002 stating that Saddam could "directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail" when Ambassador Wilson had given his report in May 2002), in order to influence the Congressional debate on the subject. Perhaps the most interesting fact in all of this, and something which flows directly from the fact that the British, the Americans and the Israelis all intentionally did their sausage making in offices separated from their respective intelligence agencies, is that Niger could not possibly have provided this uranium to Iraq. The International Atomic Energy Agency investigated the documents carefully (it was Jacques Baute who almost immediately determined they were fakes), and indeed had unsuccessfully insisted on seeing them for months, only receiving them when they complained to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, because it knew that all of Niger's production was under the complete control of an international consortium, and was all shipped to France, Japan and Spain under absolute security. The amounts in question couldn't possibly have been sent to Iraq without anyone noticing. An expert on the situation would know immediately that Niger couldn't have supplied this uranium, so the documents had to be fake. But neither the original forger, nor the people in the sausage factories in Israel, Britain or the United States knew this (I think Cheney may have suspected it as he insisted that Ambassador Wilson be sent by the CIA to Niger to check the matter out). We know that the CIA never accepted the documents as genuine, but the whole structure of the sausage factory was intended to exclude the CIA from having any meaningful input. The fact that Britain is still trying to claim that the report is accurate (and suggesting that Ambassador Wilson is some form of idiot), with references to mysterious intelligence source(s) including, of all countries, France (who may be playing along with this to do Tony the poodle a favor), is incredible.