Assume the Position
Thursday, July 01, 2004
Use the Source, Luke
For those who'd prefer reading the actual article in addition to what Editor & Publisher says about it (which is where you end up following the links from Matt Drudge and Mickey Kaus), here is the link to Jason Vest's Boston Phoenix article naming Anonymous, the author of "Imperial Hubris."
[This public service anouncement would not have been necessary if E&P would actually use their online presence to link to the online version of the article they are writing about. What a concept, huh?]
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Sovereignty - UN Style
It's been nearly nine years since the Bill Clinton-Madeleine Albright-Richard Holbrooke-Wesley Clarke forged Datyon Accords, and Bosnia-Herzegovina is still under the ultimate authority of the UN High Representative.
Similarily, Kosovo has been under UN administration for the past five years. As Captian's Quarters opines, "When people demand UN command over places like Iraq, Kosovo provides the ready-made rebuttal." (Via InstaPundit.)
Certainly, the US is a veto-weilding member of the UN Security Council and has a major role in its decisions; and in this case, probably agrees with Ashdown's actions because they were prompted by NATO's rejection of Bosnia-Herzegovina's membership in the Partnership for Peace at the Istanbul Summit. But the complaints about any supposed faux-sovereignty in Iraq only 15 months after the removal of Hussein's dictatorship are absolutely ridiculous when they come from people who have done little more than demand the UN be put in charge of Iraq's reconstruction (both physical and political).
Monday, June 28, 2004
What Was That About Niger, Uranium and Iraq?
London's Financial Times has two stories by Mark Huband relating European intelligence suspicions about Iraq and other countries dealing with uranium smugglers from Niger.
Illicit sales of uranium from Niger were being negotiated with five states including Iraq at least three years before the US-led invasion, senior European intelligence officials have told the Financial Times.
Intelligence officers learned between 1999 and 2001 that uranium smugglers planned to sell illicitly mined Nigerien uranium ore, or refined ore called yellow cake, to Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq.
These claims support the assertion made in the British government dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme in September 2002 that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from an African country, confirmed later as Niger. George W. Bush, US president, referred to the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.
As a reminder, here is the line from Bush's SOTU that Tenet took the heat for and said should never have been allowed: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The first half of the second article discusses the forged documents that the Bush and Blair detractors latched onto and ridiculously elevated to the exclusion of everything else, to the point that the White House (but not Downing Street) backed off the SOTU claim. The rest of the article discusses the real intelligence that cast suspicion on Iraq.
…European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.
These intelligence officials now say the forged documents appear to have been part of a "scam", and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored.
The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.
This intelligence provided clues about plans by Libya and Iran to develop their undeclared nuclear programmes. Niger officials were also discussing sales to North Korea and China of uranium ore or the "yellow cake" refined from it: the raw materials that can be progressively enriched to make nuclear bombs.
The raw intelligence on the negotiations included indications that Libya was investing in Niger's uranium industry to prop it up at a time when demand had fallen, and that sales to Iraq were just a part of the clandestine export plan. These secret exports would allow countries with undeclared nuclear programmes to build up uranium stockpiles.
One nuclear counter-proliferation expert told the FT: "If I am going to make a bomb, I am not going to use the uranium that I have declared. I am going to use what I acquire clandestinely, if I am going to keep the programme hidden."
This may have been the method being used by Libya before it agreed last December to abandon its secret nuclear programme. According to the IAEA, there are 2,600 tonnes of refined uranium ore - "yellow cake" - in Libya. However, less than 1,500 tonnes of it is accounted for in Niger records, even though Niger was Libya's main supplier.
Information gathered in 1999-2001 suggested that the uranium sold illicitly would be extracted from mines in Niger that had been abandoned as uneconomic by the two French-owned mining companies - Cominak and Somair, both of which are owned by the mining giant Cogema - operating in Niger.
"Mines can be abandoned by Cogema when they become unproductive. This doesn't mean that people near the mines can't keep on extracting," a senior European counter-proliferation official said.
He added that there was no evidence the companies were aware of the plans for illicit mining.
When the intelligence gathered in 1999-2001 was thrown into the diplomatic maelstrom that preceded the US-led invasion of Iraq, it took on new significance. Several services contributed to the picture.
The Italians, looking for corroboration but lacking the global reach of the CIA or the UK intelligence service MI6, passed information to the US in 2001 and to the UK in 2002.
The UK eavesdropping centre GCHQ had intercepted communications suggesting Iraq was seeking clandestine uranium supplies, as had the French intelligence service.
The Italian intelligence was not incorporated in detail into the assessments of the CIA, which seeks to use such information only when it is gathered from its own sources rather than as a result of liaison with foreign intelligence services. But five months after receiving it, the US sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to assess the credibility of separate US intelligence information that suggested Iraq had approached Niger.
Mr Wilson was critical of the Bush administration's use of secret intelligence, and has since charged that the White House sought to intimidate him by leaking the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.
But Mr Wilson also stated in his account of the visit that Mohamed Sayeed al-Sahaf, Iraq's former information minister, was identified to him by a Niger official as having sought to discuss trade with Niger.
As Niger's other main export is goats, some intelligence officials have surmised uranium was what Mr Sahaf was referring to.
Regarding Mohamed Sayeed al-Sahaf, the FT does the same thing the Washington Post did in this story about Wilson's book:
It was Saddam Hussein's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, often referred to in the Western press as "Baghdad Bob," who approached an official of the African nation of Niger in 1999 to discuss trade -- an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium.
What neither explain is that in 1999, Sahaf wasn't "Baghdad Bob" or "Comical Ali," and he wasn't Iraq's information minister — he was Iraq's foreign minister. (I don't know if Wilson made that distinction in his book or not.)
While there has never seemed to be any evidence Iraq actually completed any deals for African uranium (officially or illicitly) after the weapons inspectors left in 1998, delivery and possession were not the Administration's claim. It remains questionable from these articles, and possibly from the intelligence itself, whether Iraq was actively seeking sources of uranium or was just receiving unsolicited offers. However, I think Hussein was fairly confident that sanctions would not last much past the turn of the century and he probably, at the least, pursued various potential arrangements for eventually obtaining uranium supplies.
I find the timing of Huband's articles curious, which means the tin-foil hat crowd will find it suspicious; but I don't know that I've ever seen Huband's byline before, and I consider the FT somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to accuracy and agenda-driven reporting, so I don't have much to base an opinion on. I will note that Reuters picked up on the FT stories, which is where I ran across them. We'll see if the major national media pick up and expand on the reports, though the handover of sovereignty to Iraq two days early may give the press an excuse for not doing so.
Update: First out of the chute in the rodeo is Josh Marshal, wearing a 4mm stainless steel Stetson, to explain the timing of the FT story in relation to further revelations about the forged documents:
That's what the FT says.
I hear something different.
In fact, I know something different.
My colleagues and I have reported on this matter extensively, spoken to key players involved in the drama, and put together a detailed picture of what happened. And that picture looks remarkably different from this account which is out today -- specifically on the matter of the origins of those forged documents and who was involved.
I cannot begin to describe how much I would like to say more than that. And at some later point in some later post I will do my best to explain the hows and whys of why I can't. But, for the moment, I can't.
Let me, however, offer a hypothetical that might help make sense of all this.
Let's say that certain individuals or organizations are responsible for some rather unfortunate misdeeds. And let's further postulate that such hypothetical individuals or organizations find out that some folks are on to them, that a story is in the works -- perhaps more than one -- and that it's coming right at them. Those individuals or organizations -- as shorthand, let's call them 'the bad actors' -- might well start trying to fight back, trying to gin up an alternative storyline to exculpate themselves and inculpate others. If that story made its way into the news, at a minimum, it might help the bad actors muddy the waters for when the real story comes out. You can see how such a regrettable turn of events might come to pass.
This is of course only a hypothetical. But I thought it might provide a clarifying context.
Sunday, June 27, 2004