Saturday, June 03, 2006

the 'why?' about the niger forgeries

this is part 2 - the speculative part of a previous post.

Meanwhile - for the last few days I've had two broad questions kicking around in my head - without any resolution. one is the 'why?' about the niger forgeries. and the other is about what Joe Wilson did find in africa.

We know that Wilson was sent to Africa and he learnt that he found that IraN had been trying to buy uranium in Niger - and we know that this story has been extensively covered up - which is totally bizarre. The USG justified war with Iraq (in part) because they said Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger - which they largely based on Wilson's trip. Wilson reported that it was Iran, not Iraq who tried to buy uranium there. The USG desperately wants to go to war with Iran because of it's purported desire to have nukes - but they cover up the fact that Iran did indeed try to surreptitiously buy uranium from Niger! What a weird world.

And to my second issue about the creation of the niger forgeries - try as i might, i still cant make sense of the story. none of the major competing hypotheses make any sense to me. I understand that the forgeries made their way to the SOTU and led (in part) to an invasion of Iraq - but if that was the goal of the forgeries, then surely the perpetrators would have done a better job - right? right?

I don't even have any alternative hypotheses that make any sense. There was one suggestion (via hersh?) that the french (?) inserted the forgeries into the system so that the americans would be shown to be stupid, and thus stop the iraq invasion - but that doesnt make any sense. and we know via karen kwiatowski that the forgeries didnt come up through the OSP lie factory.

so what do we know?
1. we think we know that the forgeries were a result of the ledeen/ghorbanifar/MEK meetings
2. we know that the forgeries got wilson sent to niger
3. we know that wilson's trip got plame outed
4. we know that wilson discovered that Iran had been trying to buy uranium in iran
5. we know that wilson's Iran/uranium findings were covered up

was #2 predictable?

Is it possible that the purpose of the forgeries was to trigger events 3 or 4 (via #2)?

I cant see any scenarios that make any sense without becoming too convoluted.

We know that Ledeen/MEK were rooting for an invasion of Iran - if they knew about iran's overtures to Niger - then they could have created forgeries implicating Iran directly, rather than cross their fingers and hope that an investigation into Iraq would uncover the stuff about Iran.

Larisa talks about competing factions - leveraging from my hypotheses above that maybe the AQKhan network might otherwise be known as, say, the Dick Cheney Network, is it possible that Ledeen et al belong to a different faction - and they wanted it exposed that Cheney was selling nukes to Iran (and the Niger procurement was a part of the program)? Again, most unlikely. Not least becuase OVP kinda organised to have someone go to niger to go investigate.

Similarly, although the forgeries led to the outing of Plame (which led to some neoconic benefits) it's almost impossible that the events could have been predicted, or planned - so it's difficult to imagine that the purpose of the niger forgeries was to get Plame outed.

As I say - the major narratives on offer don't make any sense - but i cant come up with anything better.

There's also another possible scenario that I've speculated about before - that is also virtually implausible - that Wilson was played like a dupe by scowcroft into outing BJ (via the purported condi overtures) - or even that Wilson outed BJ intentionally (or at least intentionally instigated the chain of events that led to the outing).

I don't know the answer - but the circumstances as we know them dont seem to make much sense - so all we can do is ask questions.


Simon said...


Perhaps the answer to the forgeries conundrum is that they were produced to (in part) convince the British of the case that Saddam was still continuing along the nuclear weapon pathway.

If you cast a critical eye over Tony Blair's September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons you will see that the argument for the nuclear angle was particularly weak. Bearing in mind that the Brits claim to have a supposed (still secret) second line of evidence, at least regarding yellowcake ore from somewhere in Africa, it could well be that attempts were made to sell them a whole litter of runty pups, at least one of which they don't want to place into the public market place in case it makes them look ever so silly?

The 2002 dossier and the 2002 NIE bear so many similarities that it is not hard to imagine that they produced with coordinated tandem-style efforts. Could the reason for the necessity of the forgeries be that they were needed to make sure everyone was pedalling as one whilst humming along to the same song book?

(And if the chain came off there was also someone else to blame, wasn't there? The British Government has learned that spinning wheels eventually come to rest etc etc...?)

Simon said...

(Should read 'that they were produced with coordinated...')

noise said...

Control freak Cheney who made (unprecedented) visits to the CIA was surprised that someone was sent to check out the alleged Niger/Iraq transaction. Makes no sense. Cheney doesn't get surprised.

Plame/BJ were tracking some very illegal activities by some neocons. Wouldn't that give Wilson a lot of pause before taking the assignment? Meaning, did Wilson and Plame have a discussion..."What if the uranium story is BS and I tell them it is BS. Will they seek revenge?" After all it wasn't just that Plame was a NOC tracking WMD's, she was tracking WMD's with Cheney's buddies involved.

Wilson went public AFTER the invasion. That has to be a very important factor. And it seems strange that Wilson was "taken aback" when the Bush administration continued to lie. The whole leadup to war was based on, mushroom clouds and tubes and mobile biolabs. Was the Iraqi propaganda so pervasive (Clinton through Bush) that a pro like Wilson was duped into believing Iraq was a threat? What about Ritter? He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Your theory about the forgeries being used to lure Wilson makes sense to me. One reason I thinik so is the completely disingenuous casualness exhibited by Cheney..."Oh, they followed up on that. No kidding."

Maybe the order was sent..."It doesn't have to be pretty just give us a pretext to get Wilson out there."

VERY speculative: Did Plame realize Tenet was complicit with Bush/Cheney...meaning her investigation was not going to lead to criminal prosecutions of US officials involved in criminal activities or honest appraisal of Iran's nuclear weapon production? Thus, her best hope of getting the neocons was to set a trap.

lukery said...

thnx simon. (good to see you)

yeah - i think both USUK grabbed onto the forgeries with both hands so they could sell their war (with the help of the italians circumventing the intel channels with the help of the NSC)

my main question, though, (perhaps inartfully expressed) is WHY they were created.

were they created to start a war with iraq? that appears to be the main narrative - and we know that the documents were infact USED for that - but if you were going to try to start a war, surely you'd do a better job than some kindergarten forgeries.

By all accounts, the documents were laughably amateur AND the claims didnt stand up to the first bit of scrutiny. Wilson wasn't the first to dispel the claims.

So i just ask the question - if starting a war with iraq wasnt the purpose (for sake of argument), then what was the purpose of the forgeries? If we assume that the people who made them werent complete hacks - then one way of trying to ascertain the purpose might be to look at what the forgeries achieved.

for example - was the purpose to get someone down to niger to investigate for some reason? they achieved that. was the purpose to get Joe Wilson specifically to go down there? was the purpose to uncover the fact that it was Iran who was trying to procure uranium? they achieved that, but it was covered up.

i'm just baffled i guess, and am trying to look for an alternate scenario that might make sense.

lukery said...

noise: "surprised that someone was sent to check out the alleged Niger/Iraq transaction"
in fact it was cheney - or at least the OVP - that asked someone to go down there. (even tho they claimed that they didnt receive the followup)

apart from that, yeah - that's sorta along the lines that i'm thinking.

Wilson was A natural choice to go down there and check it out - but not necessarily THE natural choice - so we still start to get into some weird convolution pretty quickly...

curious tho

Kathleen said...

Perhaps we're all forgetting that really stupid arrogant people often think they're smarter than everyone else and they thought we'd all just still be quaking about 9/11 and not look too closely at the forgeries? Maybe our invading Iraq had nothing to do with yellowcake and everything to do with the Bush Brat outdoing his Dad? Maybe it was about toppling Saddam and they needed the mushroom cloud thing to get Dems worried about looking weak on defense to go along if they had the Niger forgeries, at least until it was too late? Iraq did not have the clout to retaliate, against the US and Isreal, but Iran does so having all our stuff deployed in the region is perceived by those who never have been in combat themselves, as an advantage? I think it's a mistake to try to figure this out by giving them credit for thinking. I think they just wanted to play with their toys and came up with the equivalent of "the dog ate my homework" as an excuse. Their greed is the operating factor and they expect all of us to do the Pavlovian thing after 9/11. And if our conditioning is wearing off, well then, there's more of them thar attacks they can pull off just in time to establish martial law and skip the elections, that way Dopey can just stay in office indefinitely. Now that would outdo his Dad.

lukery said...

kathleen - maybe yuo are correct. perhaps there's no mystery at all

tryggth said...


The docs were produced in 2000ish to throw DSGE off the track of who was really getting uranium.

Hmmm... who might that be...

Simon said...


my main question, though,...WHY...

Sorry, I thought you'd get it from that. To be a bit more specific, what I am saying is that the precise reason the forgeries were created was to demonstrate to the British that Saddam was working towards a nuclear bomb, when he was not. They were a work of fiction designed to give Tony Blair the necessary reasons to follow the US (in the form of GWB) into a campaign to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

were they created to start a war with iraq?

The war had already been decided upon. They were created to justify the war, not to start it.

By all accounts, the documents were laughably amateur...

Yes they were, but at the time that was irrelevant. They were needed to create a justification in Tony Blair's dossier. Nobody thought much beyond that point at the time, certainly not to the extent that eriposte, emptywheel and others (including your good self) would investigate these affairs to the detail that we all share in.

...was the purpose to get someone down to niger to investigate for some reason?

Not specifically. Not all in the halls of power subscribe to GWB's divine right to do and to raise war as he pleases. Others wanted to know what was (really) going on.


Maybe our invading Iraq had nothing to do with yellowcake and everything to do with the Bush Brat outdoing his Dad?

I think you will find the origin of the war here:

National Security Directive 54 Paragraph 10, as signed by GHWB on January 15 1991:

10. Should Iraq resort to using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, be found supporting terrorist acts against U.S. or coalition partners anywhere in the world, or destroy Kuwait's oil fields, it shall become an explicit objective of the United States to replace the current leadership of Iraq. I also want to preserve the option of authorizing additional punitive actions against Iraq.

Saddam did defy the then President on several of these counts, and the sanctions/inspection processes were employed as punishment mechanisms. It was thereafter an explicit goal of the US under presidential decree to remove Saddam and his regime from power.

Both Bill Clinton and latterly GWB would have been fully aware of these conditions, in fact it is highly likely that GWB acted on this directive as his full authority (as granted by his own father) to embark on the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

lukery said...

simon: "Sorry, I thought you'd get it from that. To be a bit more specific, what I am saying is that the precise reason the forgeries were created was to demonstrate to the British that Saddam was working towards a nuclear bomb, when he was not. They were a work of fiction designed to give Tony Blair the necessary reasons to follow the US (in the form of GWB) into a campaign to remove Saddam Hussein from power.'

sure - i understand that this is the main operating thesis - but the logic doesnt quite stand up for me - and i know that we are looking at it through a retrospective lense and all that - but who, for example, was the the intended audience? the spooks? they laughed it off, as did the IAEA - yet they kept trying to feed them into the INTEL stream. the public? i dont think the public heard about them till much later (although my memory on that one is a little hazy) - did they surface in the 2002 dossier & NIE?

or perhaps if we put it another way - why create documents at all? why didnt they just claim that saddam had bought stuff in niger? we know the brits have kept their other 'evidence' hidden. they could have just claimed that they had super-dooper-secret evidence and left it at that. if they did it that way, then they wouldnt have a trail of smoking-gun evidence that the IAEA would necessarily have demanded to see.

and one last data-point - compare the crudity of the niger forgeries with the 'iranian laptop' - complete with nuke designs and whatnot.

lukery said...

tryggth - yeah - i guess that's where i'm coming from.

now we just have to fill in the gaps

Simon said...


You've got to remember that the 2002 dossier was a long time in coming. There was talk about such a dossier going back to sometime in 2000. Presumably they didn't have enough to make a complete case and were searching around for more to damn and condemn Saddam with.

The claim is a simple one liner in the dossier - "But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The claim is a lot more complicated in the NIE, the uranium claim is included in the body of the text but not in the key judgements section, neither is it contained in the CIA's unclassified October 2002 white paper, which is itself just another version of the NIE key judgements section. This is because the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) included a sentence into the NIE that stated: "Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious."

What I would suggest is that something along the lines of this occurred:

US (pro-war) spook - we need your dossier to make the case that Saddam is reconstituting his nuclear programme.

Brit spook - we don't have quite enough to make the case.

US spook - OK we'll see what we can send your way.

(The claim that Rocco Martino touted the forgeries to a number of intel agencies including MI6 has been made but there aren't any details to follow this up - Lord Butler's report does not consider this aspect.)

(They couldn't really carry through with the argument that Saddam had acquired uranium as that was pushing the boundaries too far being as the uranium could not be seen to have existed, so they stuck with the sought approach.)

(On your last point I think the Iranian laptop was an equally debunkable piece of fiction.)

lukery said...

thnx again simon.

you've nearly convinced me.

re: "the Iranian laptop was an equally debunkable piece of fiction"
indeed - my point was simply that it was an increased level of sophistication.

btw - eriposte's "bought became sought" series is terrific work. (although i do find him hard to read at times (my shortcoming, not his))

Kathleen said...


I seeee, so all they had to do was do up a piece of paper that fit the National Security Directive, Paragraph 10 and they were good to go. Hmmmm, how handy.

Simon said...


you've nearly convinced me.

One more go then - it must be said that they really tortured the English language to get the dossier to read as it did.

The line "But there is intelligence that Iraq has... really stretches the point. The use of "But" in there reads as if this represents that there is somehow supplemental and additional evidence when this was (as we now know) patently not the case. They didn't go with just "There is intelligence that...", oh no, they had to add the extra "But".

Then the actual "There is intelligence that...". Not "There is evidence that..." or "There is proof that" or even "There is reason to believe that...". No, they had to use the word "intelligence". Now what form the intelligence took is left for the reader to decide for him/herself. Was it high quality intelligence? Was it cast-iron intelligence? Was it intelligence from France/Italy/the US? Was if intelligence from a self-serving Saddam opponent? Was it even good or bad intelligence? We're not told.

They really stretched the point to make their case. This is why eriposte's work is such hard work to follow. The complexity of the whole affair has only resulted because the whole thing has collapsed like a house of cards. There is no way anyone could have designed these complexities into the whole situation in the first place. It was a simple plan to cook the books which never considered the fact that Saddam may have given up (even if only temporarily) his weapons ambitions. They thought (miscalculated) that they would roll into Baghdad and find all they were looking for and that their case would be made and that no-one would ever delve more deeply into these matters.

Kathleen, all they had to do was do up a piece of paper that fit the...

I don't think there ever was another piece of paper. It was unspoken policy, only known by a few (Republicans) at the top. Interestingly it was declassified from 'Top Secret' and fed to the Washington Post in 1998, just when the UNSCOM inspections were collapsing. To be read by Saddam as a threat relating to the continuing and unconcluded (remembering there was only ever a ceasefire) 1991 conflict.

(Bill Clinton's Iraq Liberation Act was a separate work designed to allow for the continuing bombing campaign and to justify the no-fly zones, as well as to facilitate the Iraqi opposition-in-exile. He wanted no part in an actual invasion to overthrow Saddam, nor any knowledge of what Saddam had done and that GHWB's administration had covered up.)

Simon said...


Additional post - just read the whole page through again - to encapsulate and to tie up this thread:

The Bush administration was dead set on removing Saddam.

They desperately needed the Brits onside so as not to be forced into acting unilaterally.

The Brits were sceptical about the seriousness of the whole WMD issue - Dr Kelly and others did not (personally - although their public positions were different) believe that Saddam had reconstituted his earlier programmes.

Tony Blair would only go along if he was able to make a case that he could present to the public and to Parliament to demonstrate Saddam's 'evil' intent.

Additional 'evidence' was required and the necessity for the production of the forgeries was born.

The additional 'evidence' was manufactured and filtered into the British intel system.

Although it was not entirely persuasive, it did represent 'intelligence', and was therefore allowed to pass the smell test when very carefully worded.

The dossier could not be externally analysed (by the public and Parliament) when published because sourcing was carefully kept out of the document.

The dossier became Tony's justification for taking part in the action to remove Saddam.

Saddam was removed. However he had been very careful to leave the cupboard empty so as not to condemn himself in relation to the charges against him.

The Iraq Survey Group was formed, and try as they might, nothing was there to be found.

David Kelly killed himself because he was not willing to lie further for HM Government.

David Kay found he had egg on his face and resigned.

British and Australian experts also resigned from the ISG.

Charles Duelfer wrapped everything up as best he could but could not explain away the obvious (like WHY there were no WMD's to be found).

Bush, Blair, Cheney and the WHIG all looked very stupid.

Politics overtook reality and new justifications were created for public consumption.

The WMD house of cards collapsed.

Blame was placed on the intelligence community in general and the CIA in particular.

GWB gave medals to Blair and Tenet.

Fallguys/gals (Libby, Judy) had already been created and were expected to both tumble and distract.

The blogosphere took over and is now revealing the truth.

(The future is the future but it ain't over yet!)

(I just want the hear the fat man sing!)

(Any Joseph Wilson/Iran link is bunk because Iran is not disallowed yellowcake. Beware of red herrings and repeats of past performances.)

lukery said...

simon - again - you are probably right. i can hardly think of anyone on any side of the atlantic, the left/right divide, or any other divide - who doesnt think that the purpose of the forgeries was as you say.

but still - the story doesnt seem to stack up. we're talking about people who can apparently fake osama and zarqawi tapes - why were they so crude in this instance?

you say: "it must be said that they really tortured the English language to get the dossier to read as it did."
i actually think this supports my hypothesis more than yours. (FTR - im against torture - language or otherwise)
why not do a better job? these guys are experts in a lot of things, and have unlimited resources.

"which never considered the fact that Saddam may have given up (even if only temporarily) his weapons ambitions."
i disagree - they knew from kamel, for example, that he didnt have any.

"they thought (miscalculated) that they would roll into Baghdad and find all they were looking for"
again - i disagree.

i agree that they probably thought that they'd be 'heroes in error' - but this still doesnt take us beyond the fact that they entered easily debunkable claims into the intel stream - with a high probability that if anyone looked at the dox before the invasion then they'd likely be shown to be fraudulent. the dox were immediately debunked by burbetta, immediately debunked by the embassy in rome, immediately debunked by the first INR analyst who saw them, immediately debunked by the IAEA.

it's true that they served their ultimate purported purpose - and so you could therefore argue that the debunking is irrelevant - but the forgerers, looking forward, would presumably have considered which hurdles they'd have to clear - and it's clear that there was a good chance that the forgeries wouldnt clear those presumably requisite hurdles.

ill leave it there

(altho i do have a new post up about these issues)

Kathleen said...

I repeat, stooopid arrogant people think everyone else is stoooopid too. In fact, all they had to do was repeat 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 a jillion times and even the Dems went along with it, without much inquiry. So who expected a douments expert to blow the cover? Certainly not the dumb shits at the top.

Simon, I meant the Niger Forgery piece of paper to justify fitting Paragraph 10 conditions by alleging uranium being bought/sought.