Wednesday, June 14, 2006

niger: dumb intelligence

* the other day I wrote about the Niger forgeries:
"And presuming that the forgers were trying to start/justify a war in iraq, there is a downside to having really bad intel in the intel stream - it could be expected to undermine the case for war, because it would tip off intelligence agencies to the fact that people were trying to fraudulently create/justify a war - which ought to have resulted in a heightened level of diligence (and probably a higher bar) regarding any other intel which happened to point in the same direction."

eriposte has a new piece up. First he quotes Gellman from WaPo (Oct05):
The (Rome) 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.
(emphasis eriposte's)

more eriposte:
Conclusions

There is limited reporting to-date which indicates that the CIA was aware of the Niger forgeries around the time they received the SISMI Niger uranium reports in Oct 2001. This doesn't necessarily mean that Langley had copies of the forgeries at the time or that they knew the specific details of names/dates in the forgeries, but it does mean that Langley was aware, at the minimum, that bogus uranium claims associated with Iraq and Niger were circulating in a dossier in Italy. A former CIA official has also confirmed that the CIA would not have given the Italian (SISMI) reports circulation had it known that the Italian claims were based on the forgeries. This observation has significant implications that have not been recognized in most of the reporting on the Niger uranium matter to-date.

The barely reported facts surrounding (a) Rocco Martino's attempt to peddle the Niger forgeries to the CIA station chief in Rome in Fall 2001 and (b) the October 18, 2001, SISMI communique to the CIA trying to put the CIA's concerns about the credibility of the Niger uranium claims to rest, are revealing because they add to the evidence that shows that the CIA harbored significant doubts about the veracity of the Niger uranium claims from day one and tried, repeatedly, to validate those claims through communications with their overseas agents and other foreign intelligence agencies. In doing so, the CIA must have been trying to rule out the possibility that the Niger uranium reporting was ultimately from the same forgeries that Martino tried to shop to the CIA station chief in Rome in 2001.

[]

...but even if Langley did not possess copies of the forgeries at that time, the evidence is clear that they knew enough about their existence and contents even as early as Fall 2001 for them to be skeptical about the Niger uranium reporting from SISMI and elsewhere.

(emphasis eriposte's)

10 comments:

Simon said...

Which all begs the question (I know, questions, questions) how come the CIA station chief immediately registered the documents as being fake? Did he clock them in someway as having the errors they did contain, or did he think that the whole idea simply failed the smell test? Did he even have previous knowledge of Rocco and his involvement in other nefarious dodgy-dealings?

Lukery, the other day you wrote "...the 'british' attribution was wiggle room around the fact that the CIA wouldnt allow direct attribution...".

More a case of 'the CIA COULDN'T allow direct attribution because they knew it was a load of old tosh'?

lukery said...

"Did he clock them in someway as having the errors they did contain, or did he think that the whole idea simply failed the smell test?"
hmmm - at the risk of trying to paint a scenario where i'm always right (!) - we seem to have a situation where:
a) the niger story is obviously facially false, AND
b) the documents trying to tell a false story are facially false. AND
c) the messenger is compromised
d) all of the above

take your pic :-)

lukery said...

"More a case of 'the CIA COULDN'T allow direct attribution because they knew it was a load of old tosh'?"

errr - sure. but werent you trying to argue that the niger claims were sposed to be for inclusion in the dodgy dossier, and that that particular claim was farmed out to the brits so that the sourcing could appear "multinational in origin and therefore more believable"?

Simon said...

lukery,

Just another thought, I don't know whether you would categorize this as insightful observation or as stating the bleedin' obvious, but being as the claims were bunk and they knew they were bunk, they would have needed an 'intelligence failure' to cover their arses. And what do we end up with? Oh yes, an 'intelligence failure' of the highest imaginable magnitude.

Go on, you tell me, was it done by accident or was it done by design?

(Were the CIA even under ORDERS to do what they did?)

(Got to go and repair a sill on a car now - back later.)

Simon said...

Just before I go:

errr - sure. but werent you trying to argue that the niger claims were sposed to be for inclusion in the dodgy dossier, and that that particular claim was farmed out to the brits so that the sourcing could appear "multinational in origin and therefore more believable"?

Yep, that's my view. The CIA didn't want to touch them with a bargepole but maybe they didn't have a choice. And they Brits, they were being spoon-fed. They had no idea that someone would go to the lengths they did to create and disseminate the forgeries in the first place...

lukery said...

"insightful observation or as stating the bleedin' obvious"
lol - you omitted option c) WRONG!

i promised you yesterday that i'd move on from this - but it still intrigues me - and i'm starting to get the sense that you are also leaning my way to some extent.

once you look under the hood, the meta-narrative breaks down quite quickly (AFAIC) - the outing of Plame as GetWilson is quite similar.

it strikes me that if they wanted a niger 'intelligence failure' it would make more sense to have it as a borderline issue - some ambiguity and all that - rather than the kindergarten nonsense they cooked up (presuming the gaol was to invade iraq)

"(Were the CIA even under ORDERS to do what they did?)"
what do you mean? which part of the CIA? which orders? which "what they did"?

Simon said...

Luke: (quote)

- at the risk of trying to paint a scenario where i'm always right (!)

We're starting to go in two different directions...

lukery said...

"insightful observation or as stating the bleedin' obvious"
lol - you omitted option c) WRONG!


Sorry mate but I come on to your blog to discuss and debate very serious issues. The likes of C4 f**k me off. I pay quite a price for that in time and energy. I don't expect to be dismissed out of hand. That pi**es me off quite big time.

i promised you yesterday that i'd move on from this - but it still intrigues me - and i'm starting to get the sense that you are also leaning my way to some extent.

You did? We seem to be repeat blogging about this. And no, I'm not. I'm posting as I see it (and I sense you are not taking this in ??? ;)

(What do you want, the truth or the buzziest blog?)

once you look under the hood, the meta-narrative breaks down quite quickly (AFAIC) - the outing of Plame as GetWilson is quite similar.

Sorry, but tonight, as far as I read that, you're either talking sh*t, you're pi*sed or you're st*ned. Explain yourself!

it strikes me that if they wanted a niger 'intelligence failure' it would make more sense to have it as a borderline issue - some ambiguity and all that - rather than the kindergarten nonsense they cooked up (presuming the gaol was to invade iraq)

It was a total failure they wanted, as justification, because they invaded Iraq on ficticious grounds.

"(Were the CIA even under ORDERS to do what they did?)"
what do you mean? which part of the CIA? which orders? which "what they did"?


If Tenet was told to make the case for WMD in Iraq what did he do? He said it was "a slam dunk case".

Read Butler, as I've posted before, "The CIA advised caution... but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought."

lukery said...

ouch!

I certainly dont dismiss your observations out of hand. I totally value them. - I suspect that you misinterpreted my points. I apologise for the miscommunication.

Yes - we do talk at cross-purposes on this issue at times - and I continue to acknowledge that your version is a) probably correct b) nearly universally accepted. However - I'm still not completely convinced. That's reasonable, right? (david corn made a similar argument to mine on democracynow yesterday)

The reason that I suggested that maybe your position appears to be changing is because (as I understand it) you originally claimed that the quality of the forgeries was irrelevant - i.e. the brits simply needed to be able to check a box (and so the americans hastily organised some dox - and didnt care about the quality)

Now, as i understand it, you appear to have added a new layer where you appear to be suggesting that they were *intentionally* terrible - and you are apparently arguing that they were *intentionally* terrible so that the Bushies could, in retrospect, point to the obvious forgeries and claim 'intelligence failures.'

I don't understand this logic - hence i offered "option c) WRONG!" As i understand it, you appear to be arguing that given these 2 choices:
a) "gee - look how stupid we were. we fell for an obvious forgery"
b) "gee - yep - there was an intelligence failure - but the forgeries were acceptable forgeries, and we fell for them"
the Bushies would *rather* choose option A.
to me that sounds crazy.

once you look under the hood, the meta-narrative breaks down quite quickly (AFAIC) - the outing of Plame as GetWilson is quite similar.
apologies for the shorthand. the CW is that the forgeries were created to start/justify a war. I argue that when you take a closer look ('under the hood' - is that an aussie phrase? - it means 'scratch below the surface'), that story doesnt quite add up. if you read the Unger piece, you'll see that 'plausible deniability' means introducing a mis-spelling or something - not a whole slew of really obvious mistakes.

Yes - Tenet was under orders (although 'slam-dunk' was taken out of context) - but he wasn't on-board till he was woodshedded really late - as late as November.

My point isnt that they didnt use the forgeries to make their case, they obviously did - but my point (again) is that, all other things being equal ('ceteris paribus' as we say in economics), if the forgeries were expected to even the barest scrutiny, they would have done a better job. We know they did a terrible job - which means (presumably) that either
a) they weren't expected to sell/justify a war
b) they didnt expect any scrutiny - yet we know the dox went to the french, and there were a number of different entry points into the US system, and the brits, and the media (and eventually the IAEA) etc.

Simon said...

Luke,

(OK, I’ll keep this down here on this page.)

ouch!

Sorry, I didn’t want to put a kidney punch in there, but you know how it gets sometimes. (A bit hard I must admit.)

I suspect that you misinterpreted my points. I apologise for the miscommunication.

No probs, I’m probably equally culpable. XX.

However - I'm still not completely convinced. That's reasonable, right?

Yep that’s fine. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, we’re all looking for the same things. Truth. Honesty. Justice.

The reason that I suggested that maybe your position appears to be changing is because (as I understand it) you originally claimed that the quality of the forgeries was irrelevant - i.e. the brits simply needed to be able to check a box (and so the americans hastily organised some dox - and didnt care about the quality)

It’s just a bit more complex than that. The docs just had to be good enough to enter the intelligence stream and no more. After that there was some careful filtering going on to get them to their intended destination, ie the September dossier.

Now, as i understand it, you appear to have added a new layer where you appear to be suggesting that they were *intentionally* terrible...

Well, not actually ‘terrible’. Just bad enough to allow US intel to later on stand away from them.

I don't understand this logic - hence i offered "option c) WRONG!" As i understand it, you appear to be arguing that given these 2 choices:
a) "gee - look how stupid we were. we fell for an obvious forgery"
b) "gee - yep - there was an intelligence failure - but the forgeries were acceptable forgeries, and we fell for them"...


It isn’t a) or b) exactly, more a combination of the two but only with the application of considered hindsight.

once you look under the hood, the meta-narrative breaks down quite quickly...

It was the meta bit that got me, relating to a change of state?? Sorry - that went miles above my head, bordering on, as I read that, breezy gobbledegook.

the CW is that the forgeries were created to start/justify a war.

Yes, but in a very specific way. Virtually all the US commentators are only considering an internal US ‘conspiracy’ angle for the above. They are not (perhaps) viewing the broader picture, which also included considerable British scepticism about the way the war was sold (the Downing Street memos etc).

I argue that when you take a closer look... that story doesnt quite add up.

I got the hood bit, but I would rather suggest it is not entirely complete, as opposed to not adding up.

if you read the Unger piece, you'll see that 'plausible deniability' means introducing a mis-spelling or something - not a whole slew of really obvious mistakes.

It is a good piece but it can only go so far. A mis-spelling or two wouldn’t have mattered in any case, and the rest is only really obvious if you really know your onions about Niger.

Yes - Tenet was under orders... but he wasn't on-board till he was woodshedded really late - as late as November.

The NIE came out a couple of months before that and also mis-represented the case against Iraq. It was a drip-drip-drip way of going about things.

My point isnt that they didnt use the forgeries to make their case, they obviously did - but my point (again) is that... if the forgeries were expected to even the barest scrutiny, they would have done a better job. We know they did a terrible job - which means (presumably) that either
a) they weren't expected to sell/justify a war
b) they didnt expect any scrutiny - yet we know the dox went to the french, and there were a number of different entry points into the US system, and the brits, and the media (and eventually the IAEA) etc.


On the a) point, I think they were, but only in the specific way I have previously suggested. They were not so much meant for US consumption.

On the b) point, at the point they were introduced into circulation, they didn’t anticipate the scrutiny that they later got. They forgot that things like this tend to take on lives of their own, which has now led us to where we are today with it all.

lukery said...

"we’re all looking for the same things. Truth. Honesty. Justice."
not me! i'm looking for buzzi-ness, baby! ;-)

"The docs just had to be good enough to enter the intelligence stream and no more... Just bad enough to allow US intel to later on stand away from them.... A mis-spelling or two wouldn’t have mattered in any case, and the rest is only really obvious if you really know your onions about Niger."

but here's the thing - the timelines were demonstrably wrong - on at least 2 occasions. you didnt need to know a single nigerien onion. not just 'wrong' in any convoluted sense - but single documents that are internally inconsistent - e.g. referring to future events and another being received before it was sent. http://wotisitgood4.blogspot.com/2006/06/niger-forgeries-im-plausible.html

so the question is whether that was intentional or sloppy. if it was sloppiness, then it's difficult to imagine that professionals were involved. if it was intentional, then either:
a) it's difficult to imagine how they could be presumed, in advance, to be good enough to get into the intel stream or
b) ANYTHING can get into the intel stream


"they didn’t anticipate the scrutiny that they later got"
apparently. but it wasnt just 'later' - it was initially as well.