Friday, June 09, 2006

niger forgeries, im-plausible deniability

* kathleen via email:
"A thought, after re-reading Unger's piece. Could it be that the forgeries were purposely badly done so that they could use the plausible deniability gambit? It's not a very good ruse, but then they are stoooopid and arrogant. Still, they got their war and Halliburton is mega rich from it. With the Supreme Court nicely stacked in their favor now, who gives a damn if it comes out that the Niger documents are fake? They don't. All the right people were duped and that's all that counts."
this possibility does arise in Unger's piece - but I still can't quite accept it (though I acknowledge that just about everyone can & does). The problem with the plausible deniability argument in this case is that for the documents to have any chance of achieving their purported goals, there has to be a corresponding plausible acceptability - and as far as i can tell, that simply didn't exist. Unger says:
Vanity Fair has found at least 14 instances prior to the 2003 State of the Union in which analysts at the C.I.A., the State Department, or other government agencies who had examined the Niger documents or reports about them raised serious doubts about their legitimacy.
I suspect there were probably many more than 14 other instances in the USG (and countless others around the world) where the documents would necessarily run into road-blocks - because they simply weren't plausibly acceptable. 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.

Yes, I acknowledge that my entire argument completely falls apart when we observe the actual history of the forgeries, and the iraq invasion - but still, looking forward, the forgers could hardly have predicted the easy path the documents received.

The specific problems with the forgeries actually aren't very well documented, amazingly. People often point to the fact that they refer to the wrong constitution, and the wrong minister, and the wrong stamp, but those problems are among the more obscure, and explainable, and more difficult to uncover for anyone not versed in Nigerien history, and/or a penchant for proving the documents were false. Those are 'errors' that might be planted for plausible deniability - but there were other egregious 'errors' that could be uncovered by anyone, without even the help of google (let alone eriposte or emptywheel.)
" Its September 28 postmark indicated that somehow the letter had been received nearly two weeks before it was sent. "
and
"One of the letters was dated July 30, 1999, but referred to agreements that were not made until a year later."
These sort of mistakes aren't made by people who are too clever by half, or are trying to build in some plausible deniability, while still trying to thread the needle of possible plausibility in order to meet their presumed goal. I'd be more careful than that if I was trying to concoct a story about why I couldn't make xmas dinner with my family.

I still don't know why these documents were forged - but the accepted wisdom still seems incorrect.

8 comments:

Simon said...

I kind of like Kathleen's point about plausible deniability and I can see that the (US?) 'customers' buying feed may have considered this aspect, particularly if the intention was, as I have previously speculated, to supply TB with the ammo to make his gun smoke.

A critical point from Butler is that he says (497) "The CIA advised caution..., but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought."

Another point from the body of the text:

495. During 2002, the UK received further intelligence from additional sources which identified the purpose of the visit...

(So this is about the visit and not the docs but someone else (plural) is trying to add to the case...)

The conclusions of his report state:

45.d.

The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermind it.


If there is denial anywhere, it is here. Martino at some point passed the docs to MI6, probably at Vauxhall Cross. Did they get then get filed and lost in an unmarked drawer?

(Q. Was the 'feed' deliberately tainted so that a taste would have been enough to satisfy, knowing that the whole meal would have been rather poisonous to transatlantic relationships, being as the perpetrators were deliberately less than devious about what they was doing, bearing in their minds that later regurgitation was always a possibility, if not a full on certainty?)

lukery said...

simon: hmmm - am i getting the sense that you actually see the possibility that my argument (aka that the CW story is bunk) might possibly make some sense?

yes - the 'plausible deniability' story makes sense at face value - but i thought that i pretty effectively debunked that in my post.

re the 'sourceS' - its difficult to speculate because we dont know what they were. we dont know if a) there were different elements of a *similar* yarn fed into the intelstream - or b) they were all fruit from the same poisoned tree.
if it was a) then you have to wonder i) why there was such a weak link and ii) why it was *this particular* evidence that was produced to, eg the IAEA, when they asked for evidence of the claim. iii) if there were other 'sources' (presumably undocumented scuttlebut) then why not simply have one extra piece of scuttlebut? (rather than something demonstrably, provably false)

if the answer is b) ("all fruit from the same poisoned tree") - ie there was a simple echo-chamber thing going on, and that it really is easy to fool the entire global intelligence apparatus by seeding some false intel, then i'd have to presume that we'd permanently be at war - because this would demonstrate that its really easy to trick one nation into going to war with another - and anyone could get a 3rd party (the USG or China or Russia or someone else) to fall for the same trick - and fight their wars for them. that's why we have intelligence agencies (and spies, and counter-intelligence), presumably - to sort out the real stuff from the fake.

(that probably doesnt really read as clearly as i'd like it to)

"(Q. Was the 'feed' deliberately tainted so that a taste would have been enough to satisfy, knowing that the whole meal would have been rather poisonous to transatlantic relationships, being as the perpetrators were deliberately less than devious about what they was doing, bearing in their minds that later regurgitation was always a possibility, if not a full on certainty?)"
can you type that out a little more slowly please?
are you arguing that they intentionally inserted really dodgy intel into the stream because they knew that if they could get the USG et al on a war footing it would be too embarrassing for the USG to back out? that'd require some serious needle-threading. kudos to them if they successfully pulled that stunt off!

Kathleen said...

I think the forgers knew there would be an easy path to the man at the top because he is who ordered them up in the first place. Don't forget, every time the CIA debunked the forgeries, they kept popping back up, thanks to John Bolton, Fred Fleitz, Stephan Hadley and Robert Josephs. And, they are too clever by half. They are like children who think if they cover their eyes, no one can see them.

Kathleen said...

Lukery,

You say that you would have been more careful in creating the forgeries, but then, you have a brain and a heart and would not have forged them in the first place. We're dealing with a very different kettle of slugs here.

lukery said...

kathleen - you are probably right. simon makes the same argument...

Simon said...

lukery,

are you arguing that they intentionally inserted really dodgy intel into the stream because they knew that if they could get the USG et al on a war footing it would be too embarrassing for the USG to back out?

It was a one-way trip, they were going to war come-what-may so it didn't really matter how dodgy or poor the actual docs were, they were designed to bolster the UK (dossier) case for war, they only had to pass muster (by degree) once, and because the plot was a fiction from top to bottom it was unlikely from the outset to fool all the people all the time.

I would go as far as to say that they were probably designed NOT to fool the INR/IAEA analysts, because to do so would then become a demonstrable act of war-making on the basis of fabricated and false grounds.

I do wonder if they were designed from the outset to get the mention they did in the 2003 SOTU address.

Was the wording "The British government has learned that..." part of a concerted effort to show that the WMD claims were multinational in origin and therefore more believable, as well as secondarily intended to show that the drive for war to remove Saddam was not a purely US interest?

The timetable that had the war starting as it did, in March of 2003, may have been written well in advance, indeed it did appear to have been set in stone some considerable time beforehand, simply because of its inflexibility in allowing Hans Blix to finish his work.

Were the SOTU speech claims about uranium, as they were spoken, a specific part of the original blueprint for war?

lukery said...

fp'd

thnx

Kathleen said...

Maybe, if it was meant for the SOTU speech, it was purely for Joe Six Pack, to get him to volunteer to go to war, do the macho man thing. Mushroom clouds, ooooo. Fight the terorists where they live, oooo. Fine points aren't for reeeeel men.