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Ground Hog Day: Today's New York Times Ignores Key Parts of the Iraq-Niger Uranium Story

11:32 AM, Jan 18, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Eric Lichtblau's piece, "2002 Memo Doubted Uranium Sale Claim," in today's New York Times reports on a

high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department....The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

At the end of the piece, Ambassador Joe Wilson is quoted:

Mr. Wilson said in an interview that he did not remember ever seeing the memo but that its analysis should raise further questions about why the White House remained convinced for so long that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.

"All the people understood that there was documentary evidence" suggesting that the intelligence about the sale was faulty, he said.

Some points

The assessment Lichtblau is referring to is most likely the 2002 assessment the Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research produced following Wison's Niger trip. But the reporter fails to mention the view held by MOST other intelligence assessments. According to the Senate's 2004 bipartisan Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq,

The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq. (p. 73)

Will the New York Times seek out these other assessments?

The same Senate report also concluded:

Even after obtaining the forged documents and being alerted by a State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analyst about problems with them, analysts at both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) did not examine them carefully enough to see the obvious problems with the documents. Both agencies continued to publish assessments that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa. In addition, CIA continued to approve the use of similar language in Administration publications and speeches, including the State of the Union.(p. 77)

Regarding those forged documents, Lichtblau writes:

The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The White House later acknowledged that the charge, which played a part in the decision to invade Iraq in the belief that Baghdad was reconstituting its nuclear program, relied on faulty intelligence and should not have been included in the speech. Two months ago, Italian intelligence officials concluded that a set of documents at the center of the supposed Iraq-Niger link had been forged by an occasional Italian spy.

In his 2003 address, President Bush stated:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

But the Times' reporting on State's INR assessment only addresses "the likelihood that Niger would try to sell uranium to Baghdad." But what about the Saddam "sought" part? Indeed, the British have stood by their assessment. In fact, the Butler report states that the president's uranium reference in his 2003 State of the Union address was "well-founded" and based on intelligence having nothing to do with the forged documents. The report also makes the distinction between "sought" and "purchased."

Here are the "relevant" bits, on pages 123 and 125: