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Analysis Last Updated: Mar 15th, 2007 - 00:27:04

Cooking the books: Pundits and executive chefs in the kitchen
By John Taylor
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 15, 2007, 01:20

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�Lewis Libby . . . appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss (VP Dick Cheney) against the first person (Joe Wilson) to unmask one of the many untruths (Saddam-sought-uranium-from-Niger) that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq.� -- From a New York Times editorial, March 7, 2007

To claim Joe Wilson�s July 2003 New York Times op-ed, �What I didn�t find in Niger,� was the first successful knock on the Bush administration�s bogus case for war seems more than a little self-serving.

Consider the exculpatory symmetry: The Times publishes Judith Miller�s fanciful stories about aluminum tubes and Iraq�s nuclear program and her even more absurd tales about bio weapons labs hidden under Saddam�s palaces, all of which boost the administration�s deceitful case for war. Now the so-called �Newspaper of Record� tries to redeem itself by claiming to have been the first, with Joe Wilson�s help, to unmask the administration�s lies. The only problem with this balancing act, apart from where on the Times� ledger to put 3,200 dead GIs, is that it just isn�t right. Every major element of the Bush administration�s case for war was known to be false, fabricated or highly disputed before the invasion of Iraq.

For example, President Bush claimed (State of the Union Address, January 8, 2003) in those now famous 16 words, �The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,� even though the deputy director of the CIA had warned the administration back in October of the previous year: � . . . the one thing where I think they (the British) stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We�ve looked at those reports and we don�t think they are very credible.�

The State Department�s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) agreed: � . . . the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR�s assessment, highly dubious.� (National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq, October 2002) As if these warnings weren�t enough, and, ultimately they weren�t, CIA Director George Tenet intervened directly with the White House to keep a reference to uranium from Africa out of a speech the president was giving in Cincinnati that same month.

Nevertheless the president decided to include the Niger claim in his State of the Union address, a reckless act even by the standards of the Bush administration, no doubt believing that the thought of Saddam with nuclear weapons would frighten the American people. The president�s whooper quickly unraveled when the documents upon which the claim was based were turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they were quickly revealed to be artless forgeries.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, reported to the United Nations Security Council, March 7, 2003: �The IAEA has made progress in its investigation into reports that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger in recent years. The investigation was centered on documents provided by a number of States that pointed to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001. . . .

�Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents - which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.�

ElBaradei was not the only public figure to speak out. In a letter to President Bush written March 17, 2003, just before the president ordered American forces to enter Iraq, Representative Henry Waxman concluded: � . . . a key part of the case you have been building against Iraq is evidence that your own intelligence experts at the Central Intelligence Agency do not believe is credible . . .

� . . . at the same time that you, Secretary Rumsfeld, and State Department officials were citing Iraq�s efforts to obtain uranium from Africa as a crucial part of the case against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials regarded this very same evidence as unreliable. If true . . . it would mean that your administration asked the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and the American people to rely on information that your own experts knew was not credible . . .�

Other key elements in the administration�s case for war were also false. For example, although Condi Rice was saying (CNN, September 8, 2002), �We do know that there have been shipments . . . of aluminum tubes . . . that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,� the National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq quoted the US Department of Energy, the intelligence community�s paramount authority on matters nuclear, which said: � . . . tube diameter . . . is only marginally large enough for practical centrifuge applications, and other specifications are not consistent with a gas centrifuge end use. Moreover, the quantity being sought suggests preparations for large scale production of centrifuge machines, for which we have not seen related procurement efforts . . . we assess that the procurement activity more likely supports a different application, such as conventional ordnance production.�

Similarly, on October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, President Bush highlighted the threat from Iraqi drones: �We�ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We�re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.�

Yet, in the same month, the US Air Force stated in the National Intelligence Estimate: �Iraq is developing UAVs primarily for reconnaissance rather than delivery platforms for CBW agents. The capabilities and missions of Iraq�s new UAV remains [SIC] undetermined, but in this view its small size strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance. CBW delivery is an inherent capability of UAVs but probably is not the impetus for Iraq�s recent UAV programs.�

And so it went. The �Iraq has mobile bio weapons labs� accusation was based essentially on a single source, �Curve Ball,� whose German intelligence handlers regarded as nuts: �You don�t want to see him [Curve Ball] because he�s crazy.� But his story was highlighted in the administration�s case for war.

The �Iraq has an operational relationship with al Qaeda� charge also rested on a single source, one Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi who, having been tortured by the Egyptian security apparatus, fabricated a story about al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan traveling to Iraq for instruction in chemical and biological warfare. The Defense Intelligence Agency didn�t believe al-Shaikh and decided (DIA TS # 044-02, October 2, 2002): �[he was] likely . . . intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaikh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest . . . Saddam�s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements.�

Casting aside all doubt and all honesty, the Bush administration took the country to war on a pack of lies. Those responsible have never been held to account and are now in the process, with the complicity of the majority party, of serving up another and even more dangerous conflict with Iran.

John Taylor, a life long Republican, received an AB in Near Eastern Languages from The University of Chicago. He is a US Army veteran. As a young man he served in the Middle East as a civil servant, archaeologist and banker. Prior to retirement he worked in the energy business in Texas for 20 years.

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