The Niger Forgeries
Something is just not quite right here. But my initial stab is that the old school conservatives are trying to draw a line in the sand to separate themselves from an administration that they perceive as going down in flames. It is certainly conceivable, and understandable for the survival of the conservative movement over the long haul. I mean, who could blame the old Republican guard for being fed up with the amateurs in the White House who -- through utter incompetence -- are foiling their sacred project for the new American century.
On Jan. 28, 2003, over the objections of the CIA and State, the famous 16 words about Niger's uranium were used in President Bush's State of the Union address justifying an attack on Iraq: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Both the British and American governments had actually obtained the report from the Italians, who had asked that they not be identified as the source. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency also looked at the documents shortly after Bush spoke and pronounced them crude forgeries.
President Bush soon stopped referring to the Niger uranium, but Vice President Cheney continued to insist that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons. The question remains: who forged the documents? The available evidence suggests that two candidates had access and motive: SISMI and the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans.
In January 2001, there was a break-in at the Niger Embassy in Rome. Documents were stolen but no valuables. The break-in was subsequently connected to, among others, Rocco Martino, who later provided the dossier to Panorama. Italian investigators now believe that Martino, with SISMI acquiescence, originally created a Niger dossier in an attempt to sell it to the French, who were managing the uranium concession in Niger and were concerned about unauthorized mining. Martino has since admitted to the Financial Times that both the Italian and American governments were behind the eventual forgery of the full Niger dossier as part of a disinformation operation. The authentic documents that were stolen were bunched with the Niger uranium forgeries, using authentic letterhead and Niger Embassy stamps. By mixing the papers, the stolen documents were intended to establish the authenticity of the forgeries.
It would have been extremely convenient for the administration, struggling to explain why Iraq was a threat, to be able to produce information from an unimpeachable foreign intelligence source to confirm the Iraqi worst-case. The possible forgery of the information by Defense Department employees would explain the viciousness of the attack on Valerie Plame and her husband. Wilson, when he denounced the forgeries in the New York Times in July 2003, turned an issue in which there was little public interest into something much bigger. The investigation continues, but the campaign against this lone detractor suggests that the administration was concerned about something far weightier than his critical op-ed.