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Re: [casi] Wilson speaks in NYT today

Bush press spokesman, Ari Fleischer, today was questioned by press on
Ambassador Wilson's NYT story and the bogus Niger "threat"..

>From columnist Joshua Marshall:

"Okay, I have to confess. I came up a little short on the Niger-uranium
exchange Ari Fleischer had this morning in the gaggle. I was going to come
up with something clever to say about it or point out the merciless
spinning. But it's so incomprehensible I couldn't manage it. So I'm just
going to reproduce a portion of the transcript in its entirety.

Now keep in mind that one of the things the White House has said about the
Niger-uranium issue is that even though the Niger documents were bogus, the
White House had other evidence to support the president's claim. In other
words, White House intelligence that was so top secret that it apparently
couldn't be shared with the CIA either then or even now. In any case, let's
go to the tape ...

Q: Can you give us the White House account of Ambassador Wilson's account of
what happened when he went to Niger and investigated the suggestions that
Niger was passing yellow cake to Iraq? I'm sure you saw the piece yesterday
in The New York Times.

FLEISCHER: Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson,
other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before.
But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the Vice President --
the Vice President's office did not request the mission to Niger. The Vice
President's office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of
Mr. Wilson's mission until recent press accounts -- press reports accounted
for it.

So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review
of events, where they sent him. But they sent him on their own volition, and
the Vice President's office did not request it. Now, we've long
acknowledged -- and this is old news, we've said this repeatedly -- that the
information on yellow cake did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.

[Here there were questions unrelated to the Niger-uranium issue - tpm ed.

Q: I just want to take you back to your answer before, when you said you
have long acknowledged that the information on yellow cake turned out to be
incorrect. If I remember right, you only acknowledged the Niger part of it
as being incorrect -- I think what the --

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q: I think what the President said during his State of the Union was he --

FLEISCHER: When I refer to yellow cake I refer to Niger. The question was on
the context of Ambassador Wilson's mission.

Q: So are you saying the President's broader reference to Africa, which
included other countries that were named in the NIE, were those also

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President's statement in the State of the Union
was much broader than the Niger question.

Q: Is the President's statement correct?

FLEISCHER: I'm referring specifically to the Niger piece when I say that.

Q: Do you hold that the President -- when you look at the totality of the
sentence that the President uttered that day on the subject, are you
confident that he was correct?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I see nothing that goes broader that would indicate that
there was no basis to the President's broader statement. But specifically on
the yellow cake, the yellow cake for Niger, we've acknowledged that that
information did turn out to be a forgery.

Q: The President's statement was accurate?

FLEISCHER: We see nothing that would dissuade us from the President's
broader statement.

Q: Ari, that means that, indeed, you all believe that Saddam Hussein was
trying to obtain uranium from an African nation; is that correct?

FLEISCHER: What the President said in his statement was that according to a
British report they were trying to obtain uranium. When I answered the
question it was, again, specifically about the Niger piece involving yellow

Q: So you believe the British report that he was trying to obtain uranium
from an African nation is true?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q: If you're hanging on the British report, you believe that that British
report was true, you have no reason to believe --

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I see what David is asking. Let me back up on that and
explain the President's statement again, or the answer to it.

The President's statement was based on the predicate of the yellow cake from
Niger. The President made a broad statement. So given the fact that the
report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is
reflective of the President's broader statement, David. So, yes, the
President' broader statement was based and predicated on the yellow cake
from Niger.

Q: So it was wrong?

FLEISCHER: That's what we've acknowledged with the information on --

Q: The President's statement at the State of the Union was incorrect?

FLEISCHER: Because it was based on the yellow cake from Niger.

Q: Well, wait a minute, but the explanation we've gotten before was it was
based on Niger and the other African nations that have been named in the
national intelligence --

FLEISCHER: But, again, the information on -- the President did not have that
information prior to his giving the State of the Union.

Q: Which gets to the crux of what Ambassador Wilson is now alleging -- that
he provided this information to the State Department and the CIA 11 months
before the State of the Union and he is amazed that it, nonetheless, made it
into the State of the Union address. He believes that that information was
deliberately ignored by the White House. Your response to that?

FLEISCHER: And that's way, again, he's making the statement that -- he is
saying that surely the Vice President must have known, or the White House
must have known. And that's not the case, prior to the State of the Union.

Q: He's saying that surely people at the decision-making level within the
NSC would have known the information which he -- passed on to both the State
Department and the CIA.

FLEISCHER: And the information about the yellow cake and Niger was not
specifically known prior to the State of the Union by the White House.

Q: What does that say about communications?

FLEISCHER: We've acknowledged that the information turned out to be bogus
involving the report on the yellow cake. That is not new. You can go back.
You can look it up. Dr. Rice has said it repeatedly. I've said it
repeatedly. It's been said from this podium on the record, in several
instances. It's been said to many of you in this room, specifically.

Q: But, Ari, even if you said that the Niger thing was wrong, the next line
has usually been that the President's statement was deliberately broader
than Niger, it referred to all of Africa. The national intelligence estimate
discusses other countries in Africa that there were attempts to purchase
yellow cake from, or other sources of uranium --

FLEISCHER: Let me do this, David. On your specific question I'm going to
come back and post the specific answer on the broader statement on the

When it's 'posted' we'll let you know."

----- Original Message -----
From: "ppg" <>
To: <>
Sent: Sunday, July 06, 2003 1:00 PM
Subject: [casi] Wilson speaks in NYT today

What I Didn't Find in Africa

WASHINGTON July 6, 2003

Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's
weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?

Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to
the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence
related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the
Iraqi threat.

For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and
ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last
American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful
advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H.
W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President
Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security

It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the
effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's
nonconventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed
former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence
Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a
particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told
that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of
uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in
the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to
check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's

After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and
through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to
Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but
by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered
pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on
behalf of the United States government.

In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had
been a diplomat in the mid-70's and visited as a National Security Council
official in the late 90's. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal
winds had clogged the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see
camel caravans crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge),
the setting sun behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their
faces to protect against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.

The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy.
For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a
close eye on Niger's uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the
ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to
Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to
Washington. Nevertheless, she and I agreed that my time would be best spent
interviewing people who had been in government when the deal supposedly took
place, which was before her arrival.

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens
of people: current government officials, former government officials, people
associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to
conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever
taken place.

Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be
exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium
business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French,
Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted
to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which
in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental
entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of
mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's
simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have

(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have
pointed out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for
example, by officials who were no longer in government — and were probably
forged. And then there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)

Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were
consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her
staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a
detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State
Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or
earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four
documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The
documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey,
a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up
my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice
president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any
of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this
is standard operating procedure.

I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take
part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by
the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002,
however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper"
asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate
danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium
from an African country.

 Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the
charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and
suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his
conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied
that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African
countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time,
I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before
the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet
that mentioned the Niger case.

Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office
asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did
so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to
the appropriate officials within our government.

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political
leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I
would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was
ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a
legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.
(It's worth remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr.
Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was "trying once again to produce nuclear
weapons.") At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military
force at the president's behest, should want to know if the assertions about
Iraq were warranted.

I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass
destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained
international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical
weapons; it had an active biological weapons program and quite possibly a
nuclear research program — all of which were in violation of United Nations
resolutions. Having encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to
the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.

But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We
have to find out. America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its
information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence
to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist
history," as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a
democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More
than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a
duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.
Joseph C. Wilson 4th, United States ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995,
is an international business consultant.

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